UW School of Music: Carillon TowerEstablished in the Sociology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984, the A. E. Havens Center for the Study of 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 Professor of Rural Sociology, A. Eugene Havens, whose life and work embodied the combination of progressive political commitment and scholarly rigor that the Center encourages.

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.

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About the Havens Center

Established in the Sociology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984, the A. E. Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and Social Change 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 Professor of Rural Sociology, A. Eugene Havens, whose life and work embodied the combination of progressive political commitment and scholarly rigor that the Center encourages.

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 political activism. By fostering such interaction, the Havens 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 Center seeks to promote might therefore be characterized as "strategic." First, the work at the Center will have a practical intent. As its title suggests, the Center's underlying mission is to engage in the study of social structure in order to foster social change. This does not imply that every Havens 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 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 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), as well as numerous community and social movement organizations.