Carillon Tower and the Sewell Social Sciences Building during autumn
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Students talk on the terrace of the Education building at UW-Madison
Bascom Hill, UW-Madison

About The Havens Wright Center

Established in the Sociology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984, the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice is dedicated to promoting critical intellectual reflection and exchange, both within the academy as well as between it and the broader society. The Center is named in honor of the late Professors of Rural Sociology and Sociology, A. Eugene Havens and Erik Olin Wright, whose life and work embodied the combination of progressive social and political commitment and scholarly rigor that the Center encourages.

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Havens Wright Center Mission

Carillon Tower and the Sewell Social Sciences Building during autumn

The traditional tasks of critical social thought have been to analyze the sources of inequality and injustice in existing social arrangements, to suggest both practical and utopian alternatives to those arrangements, and to identify and learn from the many social movements seeking progressive social and political change. These tasks are as relevant today as ever. Indeed, we face a variety of challenges, both new and enduring, that demand creative critical reflection. These include the increasingly integrated and global character of capitalist economic development, the durability of racial and gender oppressions, the threats of global environmental catastrophe, and the failure of many traditional models of progressive reform.

Furthermore, we face these challenges at a moment of considerable uncertainty and transition. Established orders have fractured, and what will replace them is far from clear. As in all such historical moments, answers will come from the interaction between critical reflection and active engagement with these challenges. By fostering such interaction and providing a space for critical voices advocating democratic alternatives to existing social arrangements, the Havens Wright Center seeks to contribute to the development of a society openly committed to reason, democracy, equality, and freedom. In this respect, the Center stands in a long tradition at the University of Wisconsin. The “Wisconsin Idea” holds that reason and decency should inform issues of public policy, and that academics have an important role to play in realizing that goal. Since the Progressive Era, UW faculty have given life to this Idea. They have expanded the bounds of policy debates, offered proposals for progressive reform, and worked with actors outside the university to implement reform.

The sort of intellectual reflection and exchange the Havens Wright Center seeks to promote might therefore be characterized as “strategic.” First, the work at the Center will have a practical intent. This does not imply that every Havens Wright Center discussion and project will have immediate practical relevance; much of what needs to be done involves clarifying the abstract concepts and frameworks necessary for creative critical analysis. The guiding motivation behind such discussions, however, will be their ultimate relevance for practical agendas of social change.

Second, the work at the Havens Wright Center will not be confined to investigating alternatives realizable within existing institutional arrangements. Conventional policy analysis generally takes the central institutions of society as given and thus treats seriously only those options that are possible within existing institutional structures. However, since the Center seeks to widen public debate beyond its present narrow confines, it will look to the choices made feasible by changes in the background institutional structures themselves.

The realization of this kind of strategic objective requires an intellectual setting that is at once interdisciplinary, methodologically diverse, and connected to the world outside the academy. For this reason, the Havens Wright Center has sought, and has greatly benefited from, the active participation of students and faculty in a variety of academic disciplines (including sociology, history, economics, law, political science, geography, comparative literature, education, philosophy, and mass communications, among others), as well as numerous community and social movement organizations.

In pursuing these goals, the Havens Wright Center also rejects dogmatic forms of reasoning and argumentation. Instead, it embraces a careful and rigorous method of inquiry that is founded in the belief that the strength of ideas is measured by their capacity to withstand vigorous criticism, and that therefore subjects progressive alternatives to the same critical scrutiny as dominant perspectives and social arrangements. The Center understands that this commitment to critical thinking will not always be popular, and indeed that it will at times provoke displeasure among those whose views are the object of criticism. However, the Havens Wright Center embraces the view that such displeasure is an inevitable consequence of — and in fact essential to — the fearless pursuit of knowledge. In this respect as well, the Center stands in a long tradition at the University of Wisconsin. In the famous words of the UW Board of Regents in 1894, “whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state university of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

A. E. Havens Biography

Gene Havens with his daughter

Gene Havens devoted his professional career to understanding and eliminating the causes of rural poverty, exploitation, and injustice. In the early 1960s, he was a leading member of a new generation of rural sociologists who rejected the notion that cultural and personal defects of rural people were responsible for the “farm problem,” focusing instead on its social structural causes and the need for structural changes. Gene’s association with Latin America and with such UW-Madison scholars as Erik Olin Wright and Maurice Zeitlin served to radicalize his thinking further, contributing to the development of a political economy and Marxist perspective on social change. Gene’s fluent Spanish, deep political and historical knowledge, and command of economic and social theory provided him with insight and empathy on Latin America equaled by few other North Americans. A scholar-activist par excellence, Gene believed that the defining role of a social scientist is not only to understand social reality, but to use that understanding in the struggle for social change. Gene died of cancer in the summer of 1984. In the fall of that year, Erik Wright established the Havens Center for Social Justice as a living memorial to Gene’s life and work.

Erik Olin Wright Biography

Erik Olin Wright was a world-renowned scholar, internationally recognized for his work on class, his contributions to Marxist theory, and his sociology of real utopias. In all of his work, Erik sought ways to build a better, more equitable world. Erik joined the UW Sociology Department in 1976, where he later became the Vilas Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and Director of the A.E. Havens Center for Social Justice. During his years in Madison, Erik had an immeasurable impact on the department and all who were part of it. He was a celebrated teacher, a mentor and advisor to hundreds of students, and a central force in the department’s longstanding reputation as one of the best graduate programs in the country. In recognition of his enormous scholarly accomplishments, in 2012, he was elected President of the American Sociological Association. In everything that he did, Erik was known for his infectious love of life and the generosity and joy with which he shared it. In the weeks since his death, tributes to Erik’s teaching, his scholarship and his remarkable human spirit have been posted around the world. In the spring of 2019, the Havens Center was renamed the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice.



Joel Rogers

Havens Wright Center Director
(608) 262-4266

Adrienne Pagac

Havens Wright Center Managing Director

Pete Ramand

Havens Wright Center Project Assistant

Janaina Saad

Havens Wright Center Project Assistant

For a full list of our staff and steering committee, see our people page.


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The Visiting Scholars Program

The Visiting Scholars Program brings distinguished critical scholars from around the world to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Visiting scholars spend several days in residence at the Havens Wright Center, delivering lectures, conducting seminars, and meeting with students, faculty, and the interested public. Through the Visiting Scholars Program, the Center also offers a Colloquium in Critical Sociology (Sociology 994), which is available every semester and can be taken for variable credit.

Erik Wright Prize

The Erik Olin Wright Prize is awarded annually for a paper by an undergraduate or graduate student that best exemplifies the concerns that animated Erik Wright’s work. Eligible submissions can come from any of the social sciences, history, or philosophy in any country.

Social Cinema

Social Cinema: Stories of Struggle & Change is the Havens Wright Center’s annual film series. Films screened in the Social Cinema series explore important contemporary social topics from critical perspectives. Each screening is followed by a discussion of the issues explored in the film. The series is organized in collaboration with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee and is free and open to all.


The Havens Wright Center puts on a wide variety of conferences, some of which are strictly academic in character and aimed at a campus audience, and others which are more public in character and designed for both the campus and off-campus communities.

Other Programs & Activities

The Havens Wright Center is also involved in a wide range of other programs & activities, including sponsoring and planning a variety of public lecture series, conferences and workshops, and other community events.

Spring 2022 Visiting Scholars

2022 Social Cinema