Last month I had the pleasure of delivering a paper at a conference sponsored by the Center for Communal Studies (University of Southern Indiana) at New Harmony: Capitalism & Socialism: Utopia, Globalization, and Revolution (Nov. 6-8). My paper—“Joy in Labor: William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Utopia”—explored a theme central to my work (and to this blog): the Arts & Crafts aspiration (“utopian”? that, indeed, is the question) of achieving a society based on joyful labor in a healthy relationship to the environment. I’ll be posting selections from the paper over the next few weeks, but I just wanted to offer some general comments about the conference itself, which was richly rewarding and stimulating.
As a historically utopian community itself, New Harmony was an appropriate venue for thought experiments in alternative models of living: political, cultural, and social. “Utopia” as a theme threaded through the conference. Erik Olin Wright, a Marxist sociologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, delivered a keynote lecture on “Real Utopias” derived from his book Envisioning Real Utopias (2010), which considered alternatives within and beyond capitalism.
Wright is a charismatic, thoughtful speaker (not relying on a prewritten text or even notes) and his talk explored intersections of the “real” and the “utopian” with some compelling (if not always totally convincing) examples: public libraries (yes!), Wikipedia (I get the idea – it’s a collective enterprise available for free, but Wikipedia has its problems), different forms of currency (currency measured in “labor time” as opposed to exchange value), workers co-operatives, urban agriculture (community gardens and farms), and the universal basic income. Wright’s website is a treasure trove of material made freely available, but visit only if you have plenty of free time and an insatiable intellectual appetite.
Other books by Erik Olin Wright:
And here’s a taste of Olin Wright’s smart but approachable speaking style: