Erik Wright (1971)

Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

During my time as a graduate student in Sociology at Berkeley from 1971 to 1976 the Berkeley department provided a setting for free-wheeling exploration of politically-charged social theory through student-initiated seminars and study groups, many of which included students from throughout the Bay Area. While there were faculty involved in these things and their encouragement was important, the impulse and intellectual vigor came almost entirely from students. We ran a multi-semester seminar on current controversies in Marxist theory, organized the publication of new radical journals, ran conferences of academics and activists in the Sierra foothills. The intellectual agenda that I have followed since that time, as well as my academic style as a teacher, were forged through these activities. The central preoccupation of my intellectual work has been the reconstruction of the Marxist tradition of social theory and research, trying to give it more coherent analytical foundations and greater relevance for rigorous sociological research. My empirical work linked to the agenda of reconstructing Marxism has mainly revolved around the problem of analyzing class structure and its transformation in developed capitalism. More recently I have directed the Real Utopias Project, exploring the normative and practical properties of designs for alternatives to existing institutions. At the University of Wisconsin, where I have taught since 1976, I teach a course called 'Class, State and Ideology' which is a direct descendent of the seminar on current controversies I helped run at Berkeley, and I organize an annual conference called RadFest: a weekend conversation between activists and academics, which is the descendent of the conference of the Union of Marxist Social Scientists held every spring in the early 1970s near Nevada City, California. I continue to believe that the Marxist tradition provides essential intellectual tools for grounding a critique of capitalism, but also feel that for a variety of historical reasons Marxism has lost much of his compelling theoretical and political power. My hope is that my writing and teaching have contributed to sustaining -- and, perhaps, strengthening the relevance of Marxism both in the academy and in the world at large.

Dissertation Title: 
Class Structure and Income Inequality
Dissertation Book Title: 
Class structure and income determination
New York