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).