Envisioning Real Utopias seeks to create a space rarely offered in academia: Through symposia and workshops, we bring together academics and graduate students from across the social sciences and beyond to propose detailed visions of alternative social arrangements geared at increasing human flourishing. Envisioning Real Utopias, a pioneering perspective proposed by the late Erik Olin Wright, calls for more than the description of social reality, the evaluation of public policy, or the abstract description of alternative social arrangements. It seeks to develop policy blueprints that enumerate in detail the costs, benefits, and overall consequences of transformative economic, political, and social arrangements. 

What is the Real Utopias Project?

Starting in 1991, the late Erik Olin Wright – renowned sociologist and former president of the American Sociological Association – sought to bring ideas and thinkers together to open a “serious discussion of alternatives to existing structures of power, privilege, and inequality.” From 1991 until his passing in 2019, Professor Wright organized frequent conferences through which he asked participants to go beyond the typical foci of the social science literature: the evaluation and theorization of social problems and proposals for marginal policy interventions. Rather, envisioning real utopias, as Professor Erik Olin Wright remarked, sought “specific proposals for the fundamental redesign of different arenas of social institutions.” Each conference featured an intensive discussion and debate that would conclude with a collection of essays around a topic; the results of these efforts would be published by Verso Books. Here at the University of Michigan, we seek to continue Erik Olin Wright's legacy. 

“The challenge of envisioning real utopias is to elaborate clear-headed, rigorous, and viable alternatives to existing social institutions that both embody our deepest aspirations for human flourishing and take seriously the problem of practical design...Real utopias capture the spirit of utopia but remain attentive to what it takes to bring those aspirations to life...Utopian visions are more than just passive individual dreams. In the right circumstances, they can become powerful collective ideas in political movements.” -Erik Olin Wright



LOCATION: The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

In a first symposium on "Envisioning Wealth Redistribution”, we will bring together scholars from a variety of social science disciplines – social work, sociology, economics – to debate visions capable of transformative change as they relate to wealth inequality, class, and race in America, such as stakeholder grants, wealth and inheritance taxation, and reparations.

In the United States today, nearly 80 percent of the nation’s wealth is owned by a mere 10 percent of householdsThree men in this country – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet – own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of households. This skewed distribution is even more extreme when considering the racial wealth gap: the median black household holds just ten percent of the wealth of the median white household.
These unsettling facts demand serious consideration. These facts demand programs to stem wealth inequality and envision how wealth ought to be distributed. This symposium will ask academics to propose policy blueprints, that enumerate in detail the costs, benefits, and overall consequences of different visions of transformative change.
​ This symposium and the Envisioning Real Utopias workshop follows the late Professor Erik Olin Wright call for “specific proposals for the fundamental redesign of different arenas of social institutions.”

In April, Envisioning Real Utopias is pleased to bring together scholars in an afternoon 2.5-hour symposium. Proposals will be made for transformative change as they relate to wealth, class, and race in America. 

  1. The direct redistribution of wealth to Americans at birth.

  2. Taxing wealth and inheritance in America.

  3. Programs and policies to close the racial wealth gap. 




The Inequality Lab at the University of Michigan is a research and training laboratory that investigates the dynamics of social inequality and trains the next generation of inequality scholars.

Consistently rated among the top departments in the United States, the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan has played a key role in defining the nature of the discipline.

The Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor sponsors this workshop as part of a program that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration among students, faculty, postdocs, and staff.

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Envisioning Real Utopias - University of Michigan - Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop