A PROFILE OF IVAN ILLICH

Born in Vienna in 1926, Illich grew up in south-central Europe. He studied natural science, philosophy, theology, and history. During the 1950s he worked as a parish priest among Puerto Ricans in New York City, then served as vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. During the 1960s he founded centers for cross- cultural studies, first in Puerto Rico then in Cuernavaca, Mexico. During the 1970s his Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) became an internationally respected focus for intellectual discussion. Since the 1980s he has divided his time between Mexico, the United States, and Germany. He currently holds an appointment as Visiting Professor of Philosophy and of Science, Technology, and Society at Penn State. He also teaches at the University of Bremen.

Illich's radical anarchist views first became widely known through a set of four books published during the early: Deschooling Society (1971), Tools for Conviviality (1973), Energy and Equity (1974) , and Medical Nemesis (1976). Tools is the most general statement of Illich's ideas. The other three volumes expand on examples sketched there in order to critique what he calls "radical monopolies" and "counter productivity" in the technologies of education, energy consumption, and medical treatment. This critique applies equally to both the so-called "developed" and the "developing" worlds, but in different ways to each.

Two subsequent collections of occasional pieces -- Toward a History of Needs (1978) and Shadow Work (1981) - stress the distorting influence on society and culture of the economics of scarcity, or the presumption that economies function to remedy scarcities rather than share subsistence. The Needs book also initiates a project in the historical archeology of ideas that takes its first full-bodied shape in Gender (1982), an attempt to recover social experiences of female/male complementarity obscured by the modern economic regime. H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness (1985) extends this project into a history of "stuff."

ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind (1988) carries Illich's project forward into the area of literacy, as does In the Vineyard of the Text (1993). In the Mirror of the Past (1992) is a collection of occasional essays and talks linking his concerns with economics, education, history, and the new ideological meaning of life.

Illich himself is a polymath who speaks at least six languages fluently and writes regularly in three (English, Spanish, and German). His work has been translated into more than twenty-five other languages.

Illich's thought and life have had a strong influence on a close circle of friends and their own insightful and independent work. Representative of what might be called the Illich community of reflection are, for example, Barbara Duden's The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor's Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), Wolfgang Sachs' The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1992), Lee Hoinacki's El Camino: Walking to Santiago de Compostela (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1996), and David Schwartz's Who Cares? Rediscovering Community (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997).


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