Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich

Overview
Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and "maverick social critic" of the institutions of contemporary western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.

Illich was born in Vienna to a Croatia
Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

n father—engineer Ivan Peter Illich and Sephardic Jewish mother—Ellen née Regenstreif-Ortlieb and had Italian, Spanish, French and German as native languages.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Ivan Illich'
Start a new discussion about 'Ivan Illich'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Quotations

People need new tools to work with rather than new tools that work for them.

Tools for Conviviality (1973), p. 10

I intend to discuss some perplexing issues which are raised once we embrace the hypothesis that society can be deschooled; to search for criteria which may help us distinguish institutions which merit development because they support learning in a deschooled milieu; and to clarify those personal goals which would foster the advent of an Age of Leisure (schole) as opposed to an economy dominated by service industries.

Introduction (November 1970)

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being "with it," yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.

Ritualization of Progress :Address at the "Asahi Symposium Science and Man - The computer-managed Society," Tokyo, Japan (21 March 21 1982); as published in The CoEvolution Quarterly (Winter 1983)

Electronic management as a political issue can be approached in several ways. I propose, at the beginning of this public consultation, to approach the issue as one of political ecology. Ecology, during the last ten years, has acquired a new meaning. It is still the name for a branch of professional biology, but the term now increasingly serves as the label under which a broad, politically organized general public analyzes and influences technical decisions

I will clarify a distinction that I consider fundamental to political ecology. I shall distinguish the environment as commons from the environment as resource. On our ability to make this particular distinction depends not only the construction of a sound theoretical ecology, but also - and more importantly - effective ecological jurisprudence.

Encyclopedia
Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and "maverick social critic" of the institutions of contemporary western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.

Personal life


Illich was born in Vienna to a Croatia
Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

n father—engineer Ivan Peter Illich and Sephardic Jewish mother—Ellen née Regenstreif-Ortlieb and had Italian, Spanish, French and German as native languages. He later learned Croatian
Croatian language
Croatian is the collective name for the standard language and dialects spoken by Croats, principally in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina and other neighbouring countries...

, the language of his grandfathers, then Ancient Greek and Latin, in addition to Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, English, and other languages. He studied histology
Histology
Histology is the study of the microscopic anatomy of cells and tissues of plants and animals. It is performed by examining cells and tissues commonly by sectioning and staining; followed by examination under a light microscope or electron microscope...

 and crystallography
Crystallography
Crystallography is the experimental science of the arrangement of atoms in solids. The word "crystallography" derives from the Greek words crystallon = cold drop / frozen drop, with its meaning extending to all solids with some degree of transparency, and grapho = write.Before the development of...

 at the University of Florence
University of Florence
The University of Florence is a higher study institute in Florence, central Italy. One of the largest and oldest universities in the country, it consists of 12 faculties...

 (Italy) as well as theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 at the Pontifical Gregorian University
Pontifical Gregorian University
The Pontifical Gregorian University is a pontifical university located in Rome, Italy.Heir of the Roman College founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola over 460 years ago, the Gregorian University was the first university founded by the Jesuits...

 in the Vatican
Vatican City
Vatican City , or Vatican City State, in Italian officially Stato della Città del Vaticano , which translates literally as State of the City of the Vatican, is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It has an area of...

 (from 1942 to 1946), and medieval history in Salzburg
Salzburg
-Population development:In 1935, the population significantly increased when Salzburg absorbed adjacent municipalities. After World War II, numerous refugees found a new home in the city. New residential space was created for American soldiers of the postwar Occupation, and could be used for...

.

He wrote a dissertation focusing on the historian Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global...

 and would return to that subject in his later years. In 1951, he "signed up to become a parish priest in one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods—Washington Heights
Washington Heights, Manhattan
Washington Heights is a New York City neighborhood in the northern reaches of the borough of Manhattan. It is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on Manhattan island by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the...

, on the northern tip of Manhattan, then a barrio of fresh-off-the-airplane Puerto Rican immigrants
Puerto Ricans in the United States
Stateside Puerto Ricans are American citizens of Puerto Rican origin, including those who migrated from Puerto Rico to the United States and those who were born outside of Puerto Rico in the United States...

." In 1956, at the age of 30, he was appointed as the vice rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, "a position he managed to keep for several years before getting thrown out—Illich was just a little too loud in his criticism of the Vatican’s pronouncements on birth control
Birth control
Birth control is an umbrella term for several techniques and methods used to prevent fertilization or to interrupt pregnancy at various stages. Birth control techniques and methods include contraception , contragestion and abortion...

 and comparatively demure silence about the bomb
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

." It was in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

 that Illich met Everett Reimer
Everett Reimer
Everett W. Reimer authored a number of books on educational policy and was a proponent of deschooling. He was a notable friend of Ivan Illich, whom he met at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.- Books published :...

 and the two began to analyze their own functions as "educational" leaders. In 1959, he traveled throughout South America on foot and by bus.

In 1961, Illich founded the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC, or Intercultural Documentation Center) at Cuernavaca
Cuernavaca
Cuernavaca is the capital and largest city of the state of Morelos in Mexico. It was established at the archeological site of Gualupita I by the Olmec, "the mother culture" of Mesoamerica, approximately 3200 years ago...

 in Mexico, ostensibly a research center offering language courses to missionaries from North America and volunteers of the Alliance for Progress
Alliance for Progress
The Alliance for Progress initiated by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1961 aimed to establish economic cooperation between the U.S. and South America.-Origin and goals:...

 program initiated by John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

. His real intent was to document the participation of the Vatican in the "modern development" of the so-called Third World
Third World
The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

. Illich looked askance at the liberal pity or conservative imperiousness that motivated the rising tide of global industrial development. He viewed such emissaries as a form of industrial hegemony and, as such, an act of "war on subsistence." He sought to teach missionaries dispatched by the Church not to impose their own cultural values and to identify themselves instead as guests of the host country. "Throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, CIDOC was part language school and part free university for intellectual hippie
Hippie
The hippie subculture was originally a youth movement that arose in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The etymology of the term 'hippie' is from hipster, and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into San Francisco's...

s from all over the Americas."

At the CIDOC, "Illich was able to develop his potent and highly influential critique of Third World development schemes and their fresh-faced agents: Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, the Peace Corps
Peace Corps
The Peace Corps is an American volunteer program run by the United States Government, as well as a government agency of the same name. The mission of the Peace Corps includes three goals: providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand US culture, and helping...

, and countless other missionary efforts bankrolled and organized by wealthy nations, foundations, and religious groups." After ten years, critical analysis from the CIDOC of the institutional actions by the Church brought the organization into conflict with the Vatican. Unpopular with the local chapter of Opus Dei
Opus Dei
Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei , is an organization of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. The majority of its membership are lay people, with secular priests under the...

, Illich was called to Rome for questioning, due in part to a report from the CIA. In 1976, Illich, apparently concerned by the influx of formal academics and the potential side effects of its own "institutionalization," shut the center down with consent from the other members of the CIDOC. Several of the members subsequently continued language schools in Cuernavaca, of which some still exist. Illich himself resigned from the active priesthood in the late 1960s (having attained the rank of monsignor
Monsignor
Monsignor, pl. monsignori, is the form of address for those members of the clergy of the Catholic Church holding certain ecclesiastical honorific titles. Monsignor is the apocopic form of the Italian monsignore, from the French mon seigneur, meaning "my lord"...

), but continued to identify as a priest and occasionally performed private masses
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

.

In the 1970s, Illich was popular among leftist intellectuals in France, his thesis having been discussed in particular by André Gorz
André Gorz
André Gorz , pen name of Gérard Horst, born Gerhard Hirsch, also known by his pen name Michel Bosquet, was an Austrian and French social philosopher. Also a journalist, he co-founded Le Nouvel Observateur weekly in 1964...

. However, his influence declined after the 1981 election
French presidential election, 1981
The French presidential election of 1981 took place on 10 May 1981, giving the presidency of France to François Mitterrand, the first Socialist president of the Fifth Republic....

 of François Mitterrand
François Mitterrand
François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand was the 21st President of the French Republic and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra, serving from 1981 until 1995. He is the longest-serving President of France and, as leader of the Socialist Party, the only figure from the left so far elected President...

 as he was considered too pessimistic at a time when the French Left took control of the government.

In the 1980s and beyond, Illich traveled extensively, mainly splitting his time between the United States, Mexico, and Germany. He held an appointment as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy, Science, Technology and Society at Penn State. He also taught at the University of Bremen
University of Bremen
The University of Bremen is a university of approximately 23,500 people from 126 countries that are studying, teaching, researching, and working in Bremen, Germany...

 and University of Hagen.

During his later years, he suffered from a cancerous growth on his face that, in accordance with his critique of professionalized medicine, was treated with traditional methods. He regularly smoked opium to deal with the pain caused by this tumor. At an early stage, he consulted a doctor about having the tumor removed, but was told that there was too great a chance of losing his ability to speak, and so he lived with the tumor as best he could. He called it "my mortality."

Deschooling Society


The book that brought Ivan Illich to public attention was Deschooling Society
Deschooling Society
Deschooling Society is a critical discourse on education as practised in modern economies. It is a book that brought Ivan Illich to public attention. Full of detail on programs and concerns, the book gives examples of the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education...

(1971), a critical discourse on education as practised in "modern" economies. Full of detail on contemporary programs and concerns, the book remains as radical today as it was when first published. Giving examples of the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education, Illich posited self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements:
The last sentence makes clear what the title suggests—that the institutionalization of education tends towards the institutionalization of society and that ideas for de-institutionalizing education may be a starting point for a de-institutionalized society.

The book is more than a critique—it contains suggestions for a reinvention of learning throughout society and lifetime. Particularly striking is his call (in 1971) for the use of advanced technology to support "learning webs."
According to a contemporary review in The Libertarian Forum, "Illich's advocacy of the free market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

 in education is the bone in the throat that is choking the public educators." Although it is important to note that Illich's opposition was not merely to publicly-funded schooling, as with the libertarians, but schooling as such; the disestablishment of schools was for him not a means to a free market in educational services, but a deschooled society, which was a more fundamental shift. As he later asserted in After Deschooling, What? (1973): 'We can disestablish schools, or we can deschool culture'. He actually opposed advocates of free-market education as "the most dangerous category of educational reformers."

Tools for Conviviality


Tools for Conviviality (1973) was published only two years after Deschooling Society. In this new work Illich generalized the themes that he had previously applied to the field of education: the institutionalization of specialized knowledge, the dominant role of technocratic elites in industrial society, and the need to develop new instruments for the reconquest of practical knowledge by the average citizen. He wrote that "[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a 'radical monopoly
Monopoly
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...

' on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a 'war on subsistence' that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but 'modernized poverty,' dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts." Illich proposed that we should "invert the present deep structure of tools" in order to "give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency."

Tools for Conviviality attracted worldwide attention. A resume of it was published by French social philosopher André Gorz
André Gorz
André Gorz , pen name of Gérard Horst, born Gerhard Hirsch, also known by his pen name Michel Bosquet, was an Austrian and French social philosopher. Also a journalist, he co-founded Le Nouvel Observateur weekly in 1964...

 in Les Temps Modernes
Les Temps modernes
The first issue of Les Temps modernes , the most important cultural review of the period after World War II, appeared in October 1945. It was known as the review of Jean-Paul Sartre. It was named for a film by Charlie Chaplin...

, under the title "Freeing the Future." The book's vision of tools that would be developed and maintained by a community of users had a significant influence on the first developers of the personal computer
Personal computer
A personal computer is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator...

, notably Lee Felsenstein
Lee Felsenstein
Lee Felsenstein is an American computer engineer who played a central role in the development of the personal computer...

.

Medical Nemesis


In his Medical Nemesis, first published in 1975, also known as Limits to Medicine, Illich subjected contemporary Western medicine to detailed attack. He argued that the medicalization
Medicalization
Medicalization is the process by which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions and problems, and thus come under the authority of doctors and other health professionals to study, diagnose, prevent or treat...

 in recent decades of so many of life's vicissitudes—birth and death, for example—frequently caused more harm than good and rendered many people in effect lifelong patients. He marshalled a body of statistics to show what he considered the shocking extent of post-operative side-effects and drug-induced illness in advanced industrial society. He introduced to a wider public the notion of iatrogenic disease
Iatrogenesis
Iatrogenesis, or an iatrogenic artifact is an inadvertent adverse effect or complication resulting from medical treatment or advice, including that of psychologists, therapists, pharmacists, nurses, physicians and dentists...

  which had been scientifically established a century earlier by British nurse Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale OM, RRC was a celebrated English nurse, writer and statistician. She came to prominence for her pioneering work in nursing during the Crimean War, where she tended to wounded soldiers. She was dubbed "The Lady with the Lamp" after her habit of making rounds at night...

 (1820–1910). Others have since voiced similar views, but none so trenchantly, perhaps, as Illich.

Concepts


Counterproductivity
The main notion of Ivan Illich is the concept of counterproductivity: when institutions of modern industrial society impede their purported aims. For example, Ivan Illich calculated that, in America in the 1970s, if you add the time spent to work to earn the money to buy a car, the time spent in the car (including traffic jam), the time spent in the health care industry because of a car crash, the time spent in the oil industry to fuel cars ...etc., and you divide the number of kilometres traveled per year by that, you obtain the following calculation: 10000 km per year per person divided by 1600 hours per year per American equals 6 km per hour. So the real speed of a car would be about 3.7 miles per hour.


Specific Diseconomy
Specific diseconomy is another term Illich used, as a measure of the degree of institutional counterproductivity that is occurring—referring to the exact degree to which, for example, the medical industry induces illness, educational institutions induce ignorance, the judicial system perpetuates injustice, or national defense may make a nation less secure. When specific diseconomy is on the increase, this means an institution or industry is increasingly counterproductive to its original intentions.


Radical monopoly
He invented the concept of radical monopoly: when a technical medium is or appears to be more effective, it creates a monopoly which denies access to other media. The mandatory consumption of a medium which uses a lot of energy (for example motorised transportation) narrows the fruition of use value (innate transit ability).


By "radical monopoly" I mean the dominance of one type of product rather than the dominance of one brand. I speak about radical monopoly when one industrial production process exercises an exclusive control over the satisfaction of a pressing need, and excludes nonindustrial activities from competition.


Conviviality
Illich worked to open new possibilities. He argued that we need convivial tools as opposed to machines. A tool may accept more than one utilisation, sometimes even distant from its original use. A tool accepts expression from its user. On the contrary, with a machine, humans become servants, their role consisting only of running the machine for a single purpose.

See also

  • Credentialism
    Credentialism
    Credentialism is a term used to describe a primary reliance on credentials for purposes of conferring jobs or social status. In some jobs, employers require a diploma, academic degree, security clearance, or professional license for a job which does not require the specific training that is part of...

  • Critical pedagogy
    Critical pedagogy
    Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education described by Henry Giroux as an "educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive...

  • Critique of technology
    Critique of technology
    Critique of technology is an analysis of the negative impacts of technologies. It is argued that, in all advanced industrial societies , technology becomes a means of domination, control and exploitation, or more generally something which threatens the survival of humanity.Prominent authors...

  • Development criticism
    Development criticism
    Development criticism refers to criticisms of technological development.-Notable development critics:*Edward Abbey*John Africa*Stafford Beer *Charles A...

  • Ecopedagogy
    Ecopedagogy
    The ecopedagogy movement is an outgrowth of developments in critical pedagogy, a body of educational ideas and practices influenced by the philosopher, Paulo Freire...

  • Holistic education
    Holistic education
    Holistic education is a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people...

  • Shadow work
    Shadow work
    Shadow work in economics, is the unpaid labor in an economy through self service. The term was first used by Ivan Illich, in his 1981 book of the same title. An example would be self checkout at a supermarket....


General


Obituaries

  • "A Turbulent Priest in the Global Village" by Richard Wall, LewRockwell.com
    LewRockwell.com
    LewRockwell.com is a 501 libertarian web magazine operated by Burton Blumert , Lew Rockwell , Eric Garris , and others associated with the Center for Libertarian Studies ; its motto is "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market"...

  • Obituary from The Guardian
    The Guardian
    The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

  • "Remembering Ivan Illich" Whole Earth Magazine
    Whole Earth Review
    Whole Earth was a magazine which was founded in January 1985 after the merger of the Whole Earth Software Review and the CoEvolution Quarterly. All of these periodicals are descendants of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog...

    ,
    Spring 2003
  • Obituary from The Lancet
    The Lancet
    The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is one of the world's best known, oldest, and most respected general medical journals...

    Volume 361, Issue 9352, Page 185, 11 January 2003 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12233-7 by Pearce Wright,