Erik Olin Wright

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Erik Olin Wright
Erik Olin Wright giving a lecture at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (March 13, 2013)
Born (1947-02-09) February 9, 1947 (age 68)
Berkeley, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Sociology
Institutions University of Wisconsin–Madison
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Known for Analytical Marxism, Class analysis
Influences Karl Marx
Max Weber
Göran Therborn
Influenced Tom Malleson

Erik Olin Wright (born 1947 in Berkeley, California) is an American analytical Marxist sociologist, specializing in social stratification, and in egalitarian alternative futures to capitalism. He was the 2012 President of the American Sociological Association.[1]


Erik Olin Wright, born on 9 February 1947 in Berkeley, California, received two BAs (from Harvard College in 1968, and from Balliol College, University of Oxford in 1970), and the PhD from University of California, Berkeley, in 1976. Since that time, he has been a professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin - Madison.[2]


Social classes[edit]

Wright has been described as an "influential new left theorist."[3] His work is concerned mainly with the study of social classes, and in particular with the task of providing an update to and elaboration of the Marxist concept of class, in order to enable Marxist and non-Marxist researchers alike to use 'class' to explain and predict people's material interests, lived experiences, living conditions, incomes, organizational capacities and willingness to engage in collective action, political leanings, etc. In addition, he has attempted to develop class categories that would allow researchers to compare and contrast the class structures and dynamics of different advanced capitalist and 'post-capitalist' societies.

Wright has stressed the importance of

  1. Control over and exclusion from access to economic/productive resources,
  2. Location within production relations,
  3. Market capacity in exchange relations,
  4. Differential control over income derived from the use of productive resources and
  5. Differential control over labor effort in defining 'class', while at the same time trying to account for the situation of expert, skilled, manager and supervisory employees, taking inspiration from Weberian accounts of class and class analysis.

According to Wright, employees with sought-after and reward-inelastically supplied skills (due to natural scarcities or socially constructed and imposed restrictions on supply, such as licensing, barriers to entry into training programs, etc.) are in a 'privileged [surplus] appropriation location within exploitation relations' because, while they are not capitalists, they are able to obtain more privileges through their relation to the owner of the means of production than less skilled workers and harder to monitor and evaluate in terms of labor effort. The owner(s) of the means of production or their employer in general therefore has to pay them a 'scarcity' or 'skill/credential' rent (thus raising their compensation above the actual cost of producing and reproducing their labor-power) and tries to 'buy' their loyalty by giving them ownership stakes, endowing them with delegated authority over their fellow workers and/or allowing them to more or less be autonomous in determining the pace and direction of their work. Thus, experts, managers of experts, and executive managers tend to be closer to the interests of the 'bosses' than to other workers.

Erik Olin Wright's work includes Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis (Cambridge, 1997), which uses data collected in various industrialized countries, including the United States, Canada, Norway and Sweden. He is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Real Utopias[edit]

Wright has more recently been associated with a renewed understanding of a socialist alternative, deeply rooted on social associativism.[4] The transition to this alternative, according to Wright, depends on designing and building "real utopias," the name of a research and book of his. "Real utopias," combine alternatives to prevailing institutions that carry moral principles in accordance to a just and humane world and that are concerned with problems of viability.

Selected books[edit]


  • Wright, Erik Olin (1973). The politics of punishment: a critical analysis of prisons in America. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060903183. 
  • Wright, Erik Olin (1978). Class, crisis, and the state. London: New Left Books. ISBN 9780902308930. 
  • Wright, Erik Olin (1979). Class structure and income determination. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 9780127649504. 
  • Wright, Erik Olin (1997) [1985 Verso]. Classes. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9781859841792. 
  • Wright, Erik Olin (1989). The debate on classes. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9780860919667. 
  • Wright, Erik Olin (1997). Class counts: comparative studies in class analysis. Cambridge New York Paris: Cambridge University Press Maison des Sciences de l'homme. ISBN 9780521556460. 
  • Wright, Erik (2010). Envisioning real utopias. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9781844676170. 
  • Alternatives to Capitalism: proposals for a democratic economy with Robin Hahnel (2014) New Left Project[5]

Collected works[edit]

  • Wright, Erik Olin; Fung, Archon (2003). Deepening democracy: institutional innovations in empowered participatory governance. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9781859844663. 
This is part of the Real Utopias Project
  • Wright, Erik (2005). Approaches to class analysis. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521603812. 
  • Wright wrote the preface for: Gornick, Janet C.; Meyers, Marcia (2009). Gender equality: transforming family divisions of labor. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9781844673254.  Wright is also the book series' editor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "American Sociological Association". Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Meiksins, Peter F. "A Critique of Wright's Theory of Contradictory Class Locations". In Wright, Erik Olin. The Debate on Classes. New York: Verso Books. pp. 173–183. ISBN 978-1-85984-280-5. 
  4. ^ Transforming Capitalism through Real Utopias
  5. ^ "Selected published writings". Retrieved 21 June 2015. 

External links[edit]