It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shadow Work in the NYTimes

In today's Times there appears an essay that references Ivan Illich and his notion of shadow work. We take the liberty of reprinting the entire piece here, but not without a critique: Illich's did not see shadow work a source of jobs, as this person does. He didn't worry that shadow work jobs are disappearing as computers and self-service take over from people. Rather, Illich saw all shadow work as a burden shouldered by people living in modern, industrialized societies. The term, he writes, "designates the consumer's unpaid toil that adds to a commodity an incremental value that is necessary to make this commodity useful to the consuming unit itself." It is a "burdensome loss of time … associated with (and preparatory to) the act of consumption."

And much of this unpaid shadow work, Illich argues, has been thrust onto women. "To a greater extent and in a different manner from men, women were drafted into the economy. They were - and are - deprived of equal access to safe labor only to be bound with even greater inequality to work that did not exist before wage labor came into being." Illich goes onto compare the modern woman, who drives to the market to buy eggs, takes an elevator to her apartment, and turns on a stove to cook the eggs in butter from the fridge, to her grandmother, who went out back, found some eggs in the chicken coop and cooked them in lard on a fire made from wood that comes from the same domicile. "Shadow work could not have come into existence before the household was turned into an apartment set up for the economic function f upgrading value-deficient commodities."

Much education - especially on-the-job training and adult education - is shadow work, too.

With that in mind, read on:

Our Unpaid, Extra Shadow Work

By Craig Lambert, in Cambridge, Mass.

THE other night at the supermarket I saw a partner at a downtown law firm working as a grocery checker, scanning bar codes. I’m sure she earns at least $300,000 per year. Even so, she was scanning and bagging her purchases in the self-service checkout line. For those with small orders, this might save time spent waiting in slower lines. Nonetheless, she was performing the unskilled, entry-level jobs of supermarket checker and bagger free of charge.

This is “shadow work,” a term coined 30 years ago by the Austrian philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich, in his 1981 book of that title. For Dr. Illich, shadow work was all the unpaid labor — including, for example, housework — done in a wage-based economy.

In a subsistence economy, work directly answers the needs of life: gathering food, growing crops, building shelters and fires. But once money comes into play, a whole range of tasks arises that do not address basic needs. Instead, such work may enable one to earn money and buy both necessities and, if possible, luxuries.

To do the work requires extra jobs, like commuting. The commuter often has to own, insure, maintain and fuel a car — and drive it — just to get to work and back. These unpaid activities ancillary to earning one’s wages are examples of shadow work.

In the industrialized world, few of us live in a subsistence mode, so shadow work is ubiquitous: shopping, paying bills, housework. Digital technology — with its spam, e-mail, texting, smartphones and so on — is steadily ramping up the burden of shadow work for all whose lives revolve around its magnetic field.

Science fiction novels of a half-century ago dramatized conflicts between humans and robots, asking if people were controlling their technologies, or if the machines were actually in charge. A few decades later, with the digital revolution in juggernaut mode, the verdict is in. The robots have won. Although the automatons were supposedly going to free people by taking on life’s menial, repetitive tasks, frequently, technological innovation actually offloads such jobs onto human beings.

The conventional wisdom is that America has become a “service economy,” but actually, in many sectors, “service” is disappearing. There was a time when a gas station attendant would routinely fill your tank and even check your oil and clean your windshield and rear window without charge, then settle your bill. Today, all those jobs have been transferred to the customer: we pump our own gas, squeegee our own windshield, and pay our own bill by swiping a credit card. Where customers once received service from the service station, they now provide “self-service” — a synonym for “no service.” Technology enables this sleight of hand, which lets gas stations cut their payrolls, having co-opted their patrons into doing these jobs without pay.

Examples abound, helping drive unemployment rates. Airports now have self-service check-in kiosks that allow travelers to perform the jobs of ticket agents. Travel agents once unearthed, perused and compared fares, deals and hotel rates. Shadow-working travelers now do all of this themselves on their computer screens. Medical patients are now better informed than ever — as a result of hours of online shadow work. In 1998, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that taxpayers spent six billion hours per year on “tax compliance activities.” That’s serious shadow work, the equivalent of three million full-time jobs.

Once upon a time, retail stores had employees who were not cashiers but roamed the floor, assisting customers. Go into a Wal-Mart or Target or Staples and find someone to help you locate and choose a product. Good luck. You’re on your own, left to wander the aisles in search of an unoccupied staff person. (Meanwhile, you might stumble on and purchase some item you hadn’t planned on buying.) Here, it’s not technology, but a business tactic that cuts payroll expenses by trimming the service provided to customers — and prolongs the time those customers spend rambling around inside the store. Regardless, the result is still more shadow work, as customers take on the job that retail salespeople once did.

Shadow work isn’t always unpaid; sometimes it shows up at one’s salaried job in the form of new tasks covertly added to one’s responsibilities. Not long ago, human resources departments kept track of employees’ vacation, personal and sick days. In many organizations, employees now enter their own data into absence management software.

One nostalgic appeal of the “Mad Men” television series is the way it evokes memories of certain amusingly dated aspects of business life, like “support staff,” and even “secretaries.” Support staff is becoming a quaint, antiquarian concept, a historical curiosity like typewriters, stenography and executive washrooms. We all have our own computers, of course, and we type and print our own letters, copy our own reports and mail our own missives. Even those in senior management perform these humdrum jobs.

Of course, these shadow chores never appear in one’s job description, let alone justify any salary increase. Shadow work is just covertly added to our daily duties. As robotic devices replace human workers, end-users like customers and employees are taking on the remnant of the transaction that still requires wetware — a brain. New waves of technology change how things are done, and we docilely adapt — unavoidably so, as there’s usually no alternative. Running a business without e-mail is hardly a viable option, but with e-mail comes spam to be evaluated and deleted — more shadow work.

To be sure, shadow work has its benefits. Bagging one’s own groceries or pumping one’s own gas can save time. Shadow work can increase autonomy and enlarge our repertoire of skills and knowledge. Research on the “Ikea effect,” named for the Swedish furniture manufacturer whose products often require home assembly, indicates that customers value a product more highly when they play a role in constructing it.

Still, doctors routinely observe that one of the most common complaints today is fatigue; a 2007 study pegged its prevalence in the American work force at 38 percent. This should not be surprising. Much of this fatigue may result from the steady, surreptitious accumulation of shadow work in modern life. People are simply doing a huge number of tasks that were once done for them by others.

Doing things for one another is, in fact, an essential characteristic of a human community. Various mundane jobs were once spread around among us, and performing such small services for one another was even an aspect of civility. Those days are over. The robots are in charge now, pushing a thousand routine tasks onto each of our backs.

Craig Lambert is the deputy editor of Harvard Magazine.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ivan Illich Observed, Up Close

The all-knowing Google alerted us today to a new document that contains some quite personal, unedited observations of Illich in action. The title: "In Conversation with John Ohliger and Ivan Illich — April 8-10, 1978." The author: Jeff Zacharakis, of Kansas State University.

The paper is available for download in PDF at the Adult Education Research Conference site.

John F. Ohliger (1926-2004) was a friend of Illich's, a prolific writer, and a radical activist. He was perhaps best known as a sharp critic of adult education, whose social functions and myths he analyzed and dissected largely using the insights of Illich's deschooling argument. Ohliger occasionally collaborated with Illich and, long before the Web was available, helped to disseminate his ideas in a newsletter. An official site devoted to Ohliger and his work is here.

The new paper we cite here recounts Ohliger's account, as recorded on the scene, as it happened, of a visit he made to Cuernavaca 2 years after CIDOC closed. He went there to work with Illich and Valentina Borremans on a bibliography of Illich's writings. Zacharakis has listened to Ohliger's tapes, summarizes their contents, and sometimes quotes long, often emotional passages verbatim. The tapes offer a highly personal view of Illich, whom Ohliger finds to be quite intimidating and frustrating. (Ohliger recorded the tapes as an audio diary, kept for the sake of his future wife who stayed back home in Wisconsin.) The author also provides some good background on Ohliger.

A sample, in which Zacharakis quotes Ohliger's talking into his tape recorder:

[This] fatigue leads to depression. It always seems to get to me. I can also say that something that attributes to this is a feeling of inferiority to Ivan and Valentina....they are so adept to making a life. A good life in terms of economics at writing and speaking and I suppose this is something I would like to be able to do. That is just depressing to be around. They are so facile with words, and so mildly aggressive. I guess it is in an OK way. I don’t know. At this point I’m ready again to start walking to the airport in Mexico City. I could take a taxicab or hitchhike...

Another: "Throughout these conversations there is tense intimacy where John wants to finish the annotated bibliography and Illich wants to discuss new ideas, as well as take John to the marketplace and introduce him to other friends. John is the taskmaster while Illich is relaxed and enjoying each minute of the day. Though they are friends with mutual respect, Illich controls the pace and is the dominant partner."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dr. Henrik Blum on visiting CIDOC and having Illich visit UC Berkeley

Henrik Blum (1915-2006) was an M.D. and widely-regarded name in the field of public health - "one of the real leaders of the field of comprehensive health planning,” according to a profile in The Lancet.

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For many years, it seems, he taught at UC Berkeley, and in 1997, he participated in an oral history project conducted by the university's Bancroft Library. The full transcript is available online, and what follows is an excerpt discussing Blum's encounters with and thoughts about Illich. Blum visited Illich at CIDOC and later was instrumental in having Illich invited to lecture at Berkeley for a semester in 1983. This series of lectures, about the topic of vernacular gender and its loss to economic sex, was controversial, to say the least.

Interviewer: "In 1976, you published Expanding Health Care Horizons. …"

Blum: That book originated as an invitation to present up-to-date
thinking on what health was and what health care might best be.
Each of three authors was given a week in which to present
their views. Ivan Illich presented Medical Nemesis, Rick
Carlson did the End of Medicine, and I presented what health
care should be doing if it were based on our understanding of
what caused good and bad health, something a lot different than
the repair concept of Western medicine.

Roz Lindheim, an architect whose work in health opened many
new avenues in health care, appears in several contexts in this
book because she influenced many of us in many ways, got me
invited to Cuernavaca to CIDOC, Centre Intercultural de
Documentation, which was Ivan Illich's own institute and which
enjoyed the protection of the liberal archbishop of Cuernavaca.
Illich was a priest who came from Yugoslavia, was trained at
the Vatican and was reputed to be a protege of Pope John.

He had written many controversial books, all of which
sounded a strong anti-organization theme, probably built out of
his experience and objections to bureaucratic, authoritarian
organizations like the Catholic Church. As the one-time rector
of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, he had strong
feelings about the limitations of traditional universities and
CIDOC was his own creation.

The institute earned its way by teaching Spanish to well-
off persons needing a rapid and reasonably thorough Spanish
grounding. But its overriding purpose was to piggy-back high-
level discussions of all major social issues, as well as
maintain an elegant library and a place for him to think and
work. His medieval-style university CIDOC was an unlikely
mixture of the ultra-technical reception machinery, and a
freedom to wander, imbibe, and disperse information and ideas
in an almost market-like intellectual setting.

When one arrived, one was set down in front of a suitcase-
sized mechanized monster which took your fifty dollars, took
your picture and a small ticket you had filled out, and turned
out a wallet-sized plastic-encased I.D. card that allowed you
to attend for the rest of the year. That allowed the card
holder to attend any and all presentations, of which there were
a dozen or more going on at any one moment.

It might be medicine one month, a four-hour-a-day series,
with half presentation, half discussion, history of the
Philippines which we attended, or philosophy, whatever.

Illich toured each series at least once a week and gave a
resume of all the courses that were being presented, truly an
unbelievable tour de force. We had attendees in ours from
twenty-three countries, and since presenters were paid
according to the number of attendees (out of their $50.00
fees), we were paid more money than it cost us to travel and to
stay there for a week.

To prepare myself, I put all my ideas into paradigms,
chains of logic, summaries, and presented about a hundred
charts and tables in my week. Given its success with an
international audience, I did what any respectable professor
would do: turned it all into a book, Expanding Health Care
, a title suggested by a confrere who then denied
vigorously that he had ever named anything, even though he
approved of the book. I obtained a contract from Warner, and
Harry Specht, the dean of the School of Social Work at UC
Berkeley, was the editor for them.

Harry had worked under me as the CEO of the Contra Costa
Health and Welfare Council for the one year I was its
president, and we enjoyed one another. He went on a sabbatical
to Europe, injured his back, and lay on the floor of their
leased van for months while his wife drove, and that was where
he edited my book. He did a magnificent job sharpening and
clarifying, never once ruining what I was getting at.

After all that, Warner was sold, perhaps it became Time-Warner,
it cancelled its contracts, and here I was. I wanted
the book for my classes. Because it laid out the new look for
health care that I wanted to use, a pair of former students,
Helen and Paul Mico, who created a publishing house at that
moment, Third Party Publishing, took it as their first venture.
Since they had so few books, they had no budget for
advertising, so it remained mostly for local consumption. It
brought all my major themes together and from time to time I
get asked to sit in on the founding of a health care venture
based on the premises held forth in that book.

We had a lot of dealings with Illich while we were there,
partly fascinated, partly repulsed by this formidably talented,
educated, and experienced empiricist. Fascinated by the
searching questions he asked, repulsed by the elitist answers
he typically gave.

Wasn't organized education creating a great subclass of
those who never could get any of it, therefore shouldn't we do
away with organized schooling? Similarly for medicine, and so
on. My preface to Expanding Health Care Horizons
responds to that philosophy rather vigorously.

Anyhow, we thought he would be good for Berkeley, got him a
Chancellor's professorship, and he spent a semester in
presenting a formal course on gender [1982-1983] and holding
parallel seminars and soirees on various related issues. I did
all the necessary paperwork and petitioning. Roz was in
Europe, and I sat back to enjoy what could only become an
intellectual fracas.

His class drew 500-700 people for every single lecture.
The large home he rented with his stipend was busy at all hours
with truly intellectual forays. This was old-time intellectual
fare of the highest order. Several UCB women faculty were
truly indignant over what this maybe celibate priest had to say
about gender issues, and proceeded to write heated responses in
book form.

He has been at Heidelburg the last few years and is, by my
standards, becoming more respectable or less controversial.

A profile in Portuguese

The Web is full of many wondrous things, including a profile of Illich in Portuguese onto which we recently stumbled. We don't read that language, but this caricature of Illich, which it contains, caught our eye:


And on closer examination, we see that the text of this pamphlet is essentially the same as this profile of Illich (PDF), published by UNESCO in 1993. The author, Marcela Gajardo, being Chilean, we imagine she originally wrote this in Spanish. After a brief discussion of Illich's background and CIDOC, it reviews the arguments of Deschooling Society with a somewhat critical eye:

… The radical nature of his denunciation prevented him from constructing a realistic strategy for those educators and researchers who might have associated themselves with his protest. In addition, Illich’s writings were founded essentially on intuitions, without any appreciable reference to the results of socio-educational or learning research. His criticism evolves in a theoretical vacuum, which may explain the limited acceptance his educational theories and proposals find today.

Indeed, Illich is widely accused of being a Utopian thinker and is further criticized for his early withdrawal from the wider educational debate. A deeper involvement and the development of viable strategies for putting his ideas into practice, plus a solid theoretical foundation to sustain them, might have led him along different paths.

Notwithstanding all this, Ivan Illich must be recognized an educational thinkers who helped to give life to the educational debate of the 1970s. ...

Valentina Borremans

Valentina Borremans, a Belgian deep-sea diver and librarian, has played an important part in the story of Ivan Illich. She helped found CIDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico, she served as administrator and librarian of that "thinkery," ran its language school, participated in many seminars with Illich, and edited his manuscripts, and to this day, she looks after Illich's library in the village of Ocotepec. If we're not mistaken, he lived in her household there when not in Bremen or other parts of the world.

She also wrote a book. We've just discovered online a scanned microfiche copy of Borremans' Guide to Convivial Tools, published in 1979 by R.R. Bowker. It lists and, in most cases, briefly annotates 858 books and articles about "use-value oriented convivial tools - and their enemies." The materials listed range from books about growing certain hardy agricultural plants to manuals about working with different kinds of alternative energy to collections of articles about composting, bicycles as a mode of transportation, and "science for the people." In short, the guide captures the reading materials and the spirit of the a time - essentially the 1970s - when there was tremendous excitement in the air about creating alternatives to industrial society. The computer had yet to become personal, the Internet was nowhere to be seen, and lots of people shared their newsletters and guides to alternative living by mail. In away, this guide is a more serious, less consumer-oriented form of the Whole Earth Catalog.

In his preface to the guide, Illich notes that "this looks like a book to be used in a library - but the library where it could be used does not yet exist." These were materials that were missing from most research libraries around the world, Illich writes: "This is the champion list of un-listed reference tools; a bibliographic claim to a new kind of territory."

He also describes how Borremans arrived in Mexico from France "to direct a small research library on social change in Latin America." These materials soon became the foundation of CIDOC, which over 12 years, Illich writes, was visited by about 18,000 people. CIDOC also published more than 300 titles of its own. Remarkably, Illich credits Borremans, not himself, as the director and administrator of CIDOC. "I myself conducted all my seminars at CIDOC and felt its most privileged user," he writes.

Our friend Michael Slattery, an American hydrologist living and working in France, has written about Borremans' Guidehere, as part of a website he has devoted to convivial tools.

One of the main collections of materials that Borremans oversaw at CIDOC concerned the history of religiosity in Latin America from around 1830 to 1970. This resulted in some 50,000 fiche pages that she herself created with a portable machine while periodically traveling throughout the continent to visit churches and rummage through their collections of old handbills, posters, bulletins, "serials," and other printed materials. An extensive listing of the materials in this collection is available in several places around the Web, including here, at Rutgers University's Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies. While church-related materials from the colonial period have been preserved and edited, Borremans writes, "the imprints of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that reflect local devotions and syncretist rituals, religious iconography and poetry, and the pastoral campaigns of the various churches and sects, [sic] went uncollected and unnoticed until the early 1960s, when Ivan Illich began to search for them and to collect them in the CIDOC library in Cuernavaca." (In his 1983 paper on the "Social Construction of Energy," Illich talks of "superstitious religiosity" as a "hobby" of his for the previous 30 years.)

A paper written by Borremans, titled "Technique and Women's Toil," can be found online, too. It was published in IFDA Dossier 35, for May/June 1983. It looks at "the tools which purportedly lighten women's toil, toil which extends to death."

Research on women and tools has multiplied during the seventies, but is of two profoundly different kinds. One looks
at tools which lighten women's total lifelong toil. This research is done mostly by women who are themselves helped by the new techniques which they adopt. This inventive vernacular adoption of new techniques by women is rarely called "research"; indeed, it is generally overlooked. Few reporters recognize
the genius who makes an oven out of a gearbox as a researcher.

The other kind of research is that for women. Its primary purpose tends to be the increase of women's productivity. It measures the "improvement" of women's well-being as viewed by the expert."

The two types of research are at odds with one another. Research by women tends to keep them outside the market, and to limit the community's productivity in monetary terms. But it also generally lightens the total burden carried by women.

The second type of research drafts women into development. It is carried out by experts, sometimes in consultation with clients and, as I shall show, increases both women's burden and sexist discrimination.


Industrialization, however, has no monopoly on the spread of sexism. AT [alternative technology] can do equally well or better. For this reason I strongly recommend research on the dangers of genderless AT. I do so not because I am opposed to genderless AT, I welcome tools that fit the hands of women as well as those of men.
But I call for research on the sexist effects of genderless AT because, even more effectively than industrial machines, AT can transform proud women into handicapped humans of the second sex. Sometimes this cannot be avoided. But I see no reason for blindly promoting it. Only research by women in each village and neighborhood can ensure that the new wrenches and pliers, the new gauges and glues, the new fish tanks and hand mills, or the new breed of goats, above all empower the hands of women. Such research just cannot be done for a village.

Ivan Illich describes the paper in his book Gender so: "Research for women aimed at providing them with new technologies has been part of development-oriented policies and has always increased the total toil of women. Only research by women, conducted by those who themselves use the new tools and techniques, can reduce women's toil, decrease women's dependence on the cash nexus and consequently the severity of sexism". Borremans states in a footnote at the top that she wrote the paper "while I was revising the proofs of Gender." She ends the paper with a copy of Gender's table of contents.

(IFDA was the International Foundation for Development Alternatives, working out of Switzerland and Rome from 1978 to 1991. An archive of all 81 issues of its newsletter are available online, here, hosted by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, in Sweden. Several of them include articles by Illich.)

Speaking of fish tanks and alternative technology, we should point out where we found Borremans' Guide to Convivial Tools. Her guide is one of more than 4,000 such documents, all concerning alternative technologies and the like, that an outfit calling itself Faith And Sustainable Technologies, or F.A.S.T., has put online for downloading at no charge.

This archive is described as "the complete CD3WD library (almost 20GB) for community development from Alex Weir." The CD3WD website, here, reveals Mr. Weir as a Scottish-born software engineer who has spent much of his life working in East Africa. Among other things, he has developed what he describes as a "low-cost tamper-proof electronic voting system" designed specifically for use in the Third World.

The F.A.S.T. organization describes itself: "It is our desire to be an encouragement and information resource for all who come here and especially to those who preach the good news of the gospel of Christ by assisting the poor and underprivileged of this world to experience the life of Christ firsthand by living out biblical principles of good stewardship, wise decisions and hard work." Evidently, the founder and principal of the organization is Travis Hughey.

On the F.A.S.T. site, Hughey offers many photos of a journey he made to Kenya where he showed locals how to construct a hydroponic gardening system out of blue plastic barrels. "Cordless drills are a wonderful thing," he captions one photograph of this project. "I brought a good tool kit to assist in building the system quickly. The locals were amazed at hole saws. They thought they were a very good idea."


Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.