Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ivan Illich short Biography

Ivan Illich is one of my hero, he is an important contributor to the post-development school of thought which is now within the domain of critical development studies or CDS - click the following link to explore more about CDS

Below is a short collection of his ideas and life achievements, compiled with gratitude from an article by Mark K. Smith in the encyclopaedia of informal education (Infed),  for further reading about Ivan Illich please click this link

ivan illich: deschooling, conviviality and the possibilities for informal education and lifelong learning

Known for his critique of modernization and the corrupting impact of institutions, Ivan Illich's concern with deschooling, learning webs and the disabling effect of professions has struck a chord among many informal educators. We explore key aspects of his theory and his continuing relevance for informal education and lifelong learning. 

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby "schooled" to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is "schooled" to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question. Ivan Illich Deschooling Society (1973: 9)

Ivan Illich (1926 - 2002) rose to fame in the 1970s with a series of brilliant, short, polemical, books on major institutions of the industrialized world. They explored the functioning and impact of 'education' systems (Deschooling Society), technological development (Tools for Conviviality), energy, transport and economic development (Energy and Equity), medicine (Medical Nemesis), and work (The Right to Useful Unemployment and its Professional Enemies; and Shadow Work). Ivan Illich's lasting contribution was a dissection of  these institutions and a demonstration of their corruption. Institutions like schooling and medicine had a tendency to end up working in ways that reversed their original purpose. Illich was later to explore gender, literacy and pain. However, his work was the subject of attack from both the left and right. In the case of the former, for example, his critique of the disabling effect of many of the institutions of welfare state was deeply problematic. From the 1980s on he became something of a forgotten figure, although there were always a number of writers and practitioners in the fields he wrote about who found significant possibility in his analysis. Andrew Todd and Franco La Cecla (2002) have commented that his great contribution was as an archaeologist of ideas, 'someone who helped us to see the present in a truer and richer perspective'. In this piece we examine his legacy.


Convivial alternatives

I believe that a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of consumption, on our engendering a lifestyle which will enable us to be spontaneous, independent, yet related to each other, rather than maintaining a lifestyle which only allows to make and unmake, produce and consume - a style of life which is merely a way station on the road to the depletion and pollution of the environment. The future depends more upon our choice of institutions which support a life of action than on our developing new ideologies and technologies. (Illich 1973a: 57)
The word 'convivial' has an immediate appeal for many educators and animateurs in that in everyday usage it looks to liveliness and being social (enjoying people's company). However, while bring concerned with individual interaction, Ivan Illich was also interested in institutions. He argued for the creation of convivial, rather than manipulative  institutions and saw conviviality as designating the opposite of industrial productivity.

Conviviality, Ivan Illich argued, involves 'autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment' (ibid.: 24).  He sees this as being in 'contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment'. He continues:
I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society’s members. (op. cit.) continue reading this article please click this link

Source: Reproduced from the encyclopaedia of informal education (

Acknowledgements: The picture of Ivan Illich is reproduced under the terms of a GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 from Wikipedia Commons.

Bibliographical reference: Smith, M. K. (1997-2011) 'Ivan Illich: deschooling, conviviality and the possibilities for informal education and lifelong learning', the encyclopedia of informal education,