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Reading List

Erik Olin Wright reading list

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Erik Olin Wright passed away in 2019, after being diagnosed with advanced Leukemia. 

As Vivek Chibber wrote - "Even though he leaves us an enormous oeuvre spanning more than forty years, it is an agenda abruptly cut short. Those of us who knew and loved him have lost a dear friend. And the Left, showing signs of a revival after years of retreat, has lost one of its most brilliant intellectuals.

Erik will be remembered as the most important theorist of class in the second half of the twentieth century, and the greatest Marxist sociologist of his time."

Here we've collected some of his most essential writings.

All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.
 

In Classes, Erik Olin Wright rises to the challenge of clarifying the abstract, structural account of class implicit in Marx, and refining the account in the light of contemporary developments in advanced capitalist societies. Recentering the concept of class on the process of exploitation, Wright discusses his famous notion of “contradictory class locations” in relation to the complexities of the middle class, and he provides an analysis of class structure in “post-capitalist” societies. Wright then goes on to draw out the implications of his approach and to submit it to detailed empirical testing with the use of a trans-national survey of class structure and consciousness.

In this elegant book, Erik Olin Wright has distilled decades of work into a concise and tightly argued manifesto analysing the varieties of anti-capitalism, assessing different strategic approaches, and laying the foundations for a society dedicated to human flourishing. How to Be an Anticapitalist is an urgent and powerful argument for socialism, and a unparalleled guide to help us get there. Another world is possible. 

The search for alternatives to unbridled capitalism is more urgent than ever. Yet few are attempting this task—most analysts argue that any attempt to rethink our social and economic relations is utopian. Erik Olin Wright’s major work is a comprehensive assault on the quietism of contemporary social theory. A systematic reconstruction of the core values and feasible goals for Left theorists and political actors, Envisioning Real Utopias lays the foundations for a set of concrete, emancipatory alternatives to the capitalist system. 

One of the major works of American Marxism, Wright’s book draws a challenging new class map of the United States and other, comparable, advanced capitalist countries today. It also discusses the various classical theories of economic crisis in the West and their relevance to the current recession, and contrasts the way in which the major political problem of bureaucracy was confronted by two great antagonists—Weber and Lenin. A concluding essay brings together the practical lessons of these theoretical analyses, in an examination of the problems of left governments coming to power in capitalist states.

Few ideas are more contested today than “class.” Some have declared its death, while others insist on its centrality to contemporary capitalism. It is said its relevance is limited to explaining individuals’ economic conditions and opportunities, while at the same time argued that it is a structural feature of macro-power relations. In Understanding Class, Erik Olin Wright interrogates the divergent meanings of this fundamental concept in order to develop a more integrated framework of class analysis. 

This lively collection from one of America’s leading sociologists covers a wide range of theoretical problems of interest to radical social scientists and political activists. From an autobiographical essay exploring the challenges and benefits of being a Marxist scholar in the present era, to an essay examining the general problem of Marxism as a tradition of radical social theory, Interrogating Inequality explores a wide range of issues from basic income, the relationship between Marxism and feminism as emancipatory social theories; and the prospects for Marxism in the aftermath of the collapse of communist regimes.

What would a viable free and democratic society look like? Poverty, exploitation, instability, hierarchy, subordination, environmental exhaustion, radical inequalities of wealth and power—it is not difficult to list capitalism’s myriad injustices. But is there a preferable and workable alternative?

Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy presents a debate between two such possibilities: Robin Hahnel’s “participatory economics” and Erik Olin Wright’s “real utopian” socialism. It is a detailed and rewarding discussion that illuminates a range of issues and dilemmas of crucial importance to any serious effort to build a better world.

Erik Olin Wright’s Classes was hailed on publication, by the American Journal of Sociology, as “almost certain to be the most important book on social classes” of the decade. Wright presented a bold attempt—through the subtle use of the tools of analytical Marxism—to resolve some of the long-standing problems in contemporary class theory. The Debate on Classes brings together major critics of Wright’s work to assess the adequacy of his theory. From differing perspectives, they address questions as varied as the concept of “contradictory class locations,” the continuing coherence of Marxist approaches to class, the relation between stratification and social development, as well as the contentious roles of gender and ethnicity in generating inequality, and the central problem of the import of “consciousness” and concrete political activity on class composition.

Also included are Wright’s own spirited responses and reformulations in the light of these criticisms, thereby presenting the reader with an open, scholarly discussion in which intellectual collaboration develops an understanding of the impact of class on the wider terrain of culture and politics.
 

All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.