A. Eugene Havens

A.E. "Gene" Havens with his daughter
A.E. “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.