THE REAL UTOPIAS
On November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. As state socialist regimes dissolved, an ideology of “market fundamentalism” proliferated. Contemporarily, a relatively homogenous version of capitalism has come to dominate internationally. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the late Erik Olin Wright – renowned sociologist and former president of the American Sociological Association – wrote that prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall “both critics and defenders of capitalism believed that another world was possible.” After the fall of the Wall, the number of possible social arrangements that could be imagined shrank. Former Greek finance minister and economist, Yanis Varoufakis argues that today there is “a greater readiness to fathom the end of the world than to imagine life after capitalism.” In response to these trends and this tendency, Professor Wright set about an ambitious project of envisioning real utopias.
Beginning in 1991, the late Erik Olin Wright 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.