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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Development Dictionary

Somebody - but who? - has put online a complete scan of a smart, fascinating 1992 book called The Development Dictionary, ready for reading, searching and, for a fee, downloading in PDF or text format.

The book is available at Scribd, a site that enables the sharing of documents, including complete books, often without necessarily respecting the originals' copyrights. Whether or not Scribd is infringing on the copyright of this book, we cannot determine, but The Development Dictionary is there, for anyone to read or to copy. (see below)

We highly recommend this book to anyone interested in following the thought of Ivan Illich, who wrote one of its essays, titled "Needs." The book's editor is Wolfgang Sachs, an early student of Illich's. He was one of the people whom Illich credits for having informed him, while the book was being prepared for publication, that Deschooling Society had missed the fact that the educational system, under increasing attack in the early 1970s, had already begun to seek additional venues, beyond traditional schools, in which to sell its services. (See p.70, Ivan Illich in Conversation.)


The Development Dictionary calls itself a "guide to knowledge as power," and offers itself as an obituary for the post-war era of Euro-centric socio-economic development. "Development," the book argues, is a "perception that models reality, a myth which comforts societies and a fantasy which unleashes passion."

Writes Sachs, introducing the essays:

… each chapter will dip into the archaeology of the key concept under examination and call attention to its ethnocentric and even violent nature. The chapters identify the shifting role each concept has played in the debate on development over the last 40 years. They demonstrate how each concept filters perception, highlighting certain aspects of reality while excluding others, and they show how this bias is rooted in particular civilizational attitudes adopted during the course of European history. Finally, each chapter attempts to open a window on to other, and different, ways of looking at the world and to get a glimpse of the riches and blessings which survive in non-Western cultures in spite of development. Each chapter will be of worth if, after reading it, experts and citizens alike have to blush, stutter or burst out laughing when they dare to mouth the old word.

Here is the table of contents, showing the book's wide range of inter-related topics. Many of the authors' names ought to be familiar to anyone acquainted with Illich and his work; all of them, Sachs writes, engaged in discussions together that eventually led to the creation of this book:

Introduction - Wolfgang Sachs

Development - Gustavo Esteva

Environment - Wolfgang Sachs

Equality - C. Douglas Lummis

Helping - Marianne Gronemeyer

Market - Gerald Berthoud

Needs - Ivan Illich

One World - Wolfgang Sachs

Participation - Majid Rahnema

Planning - Arturo Escobar

Population - Barbara Duden

Poverty - Majid Rahnema

Production - Jean Robert

Progress - Jose Maria Sbert

Resources - Vandana Shiva

Science - Claude Alvares

Socialism - Harry Cleaver

Standard of Living - Serge Latouche

State - Ashis Nandy

Technology - Otto Ullrich

Illich's essay on "Needs" is available, in slightly different form, at the Pudel site in Bremen.

We must admit, we're not sure of the ethics of this book's being published, as it were, by Scribd - or, for that matter, of our mentioning it as we have. We're pleased to find the book online, if only as evidence of someone's interest in Illich, but is it proper to subvert the usual publishing process this way? Is it right for us to point it out and thereby encourage more people to grab a copy?

This scan of The Development Dictionary happens to be only one instance of the many complete copies of Illich's books that we've seen available on the Web. (And Google Books, of course, provides limited access to many more.) Some of these copies are facsimile scans whose text is not searchable, others are fully searchable in text and PDF formats. Illich himself, we understand from those who knew him, was not upset at seeing the text of books like Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality made available on the Net. But it does strike us as wrong to deny someone like Wolfgang Sachs - not to mention his publisher - any royalties that might come his way from legitimate sales of the book. On Amazon, the first edition sells for $35; a second edition, released in early 2010, is priced at $24 in paperback and $126 in hard cover.

We're happy to say that we bought this book years ago, when it was first published, and we've not downloaded a copy from Scribd. (We admit, we did try to download it, but we balked when asked to subscribe to the entire Scribd site for $9 a month or pay $5 for a 1-day pass. Another, no-charge option also was offered: In exchange for uploading a document of one's own - "give back to the community," the site urges - one can obtain the Sachs book and 24-hour download access to all of Scribd. That's something to consider, but it still doesn't put any money into Sachs' pocket.)

We urge anyone interested in Illich to buy the book in paper form, or find it in a library. Dense with insight and argument, it's one that anyone seriously interested in Illich's thought and its influence on others will want to read closely, as it was intended to be read - on paper, not screen. (No, Amazon doesn't sell it as an e-book.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jean Robert and Illich on "energy"

In a previous post here, we wrote about and attempted to summarize a paper of Ivan Illich's called "The Social Construction of Energy." Originally presented in 1983 at a seminar in Mexico City, the paper was published only in 2009, in a Harvard journal called New Geographies. (It's not available online.)

In the same issue of that journal appeared a closely related piece by Illich's collaborator Jean Robert - a Swiss who lives in Cuernavaca. His paper is titled "Alternatives and the Technogenic Production of Scarcity." (Mr. Robert, we've read, invented a composting toilet that requires no water - a boon, it would seem, in the extremely dry climate of Mexico.)

It has just come to our attention that another energy-related paper by Mr. Robert is available at the website of a Dutch anti-nuclear research and communications outfit called WISE. The paper is called "Genesis and development of a scientific fact: the case of energy," and discusses some of the same topics as those addressed by Illich and Mr. Robert himself in New Geographies, namely how the modern and quite fuzzy and contradictory modern concepts of energy - ie. everything is made of energy yet the stuff is so scarce that we perpetually face an "energy crisis" - have come to be. We look forward to reading it.

Meanwhile, we've noticed another paper that refers extensively to Illich's social construction argument (and to much of his other work, as well): It's called "Environmental History During the Anthropocene" and it's available here, at the website of an organization called Niche, or Network in Canadian History & Environment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Life as Idol" - a CBC radio show

Canadian Broadcasting (CBC) is making available in MP3 format a recording of David Cayley's program, "Life as Idol." It is a 54-minute interview with Ivan Illich, conducted in the late 1980s, that explores the concept of "life."

We highly recommend the program to anyone interested in Illich. He delves into the substantive usage of "life" - how humans have come to be conceived of as "a life" - and how this concept has affected the practice of medicine and Church doctrine (including its views on abortion; Illich criticizes pope-to-be Ratzinger by name) and how the entire planet (the "biosphere") has come to be considered a living system, aka Gaia. And much more. Ultimately, Illich declares himself a hedonist and calls for us all to "live it up" - without wasting the gift that is this world, this life.

CBC is offering the program as part of a series it calls Listener's Choice, here. Its description of the program:

As a young couple, without television or internet, Andrea Wilhelm and her husband were ripped out of their nightly routine, spellbound by a voice full of character, critiquing what society does in the name of "life" and questioning the very concept. The voice was educator, and social critic Ivan Illich and we represent that Ideas interview from 1986.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sajay Samuel, interviewed about Illich and "the vernacular"

A group of radical environmentalists in the U.K. called The Dark Mountain Project has published an interview with Sajay Samuel that touches on Ivan Illich and his ideas about "the vernacular." Sajay looks carefully at the charge that Illich was a romantic. The interview is available for listening here with an MP3-based recording of the interview available, as well.

We've always been impressed and intrigued by Sajay. His credentials are in the discipline of business, and he now serves as Clinical Associate Professor of Accounting & STS at Penn State's Smeal College of Business. Yet, he was a member of Illich's inner circle. He also was one of the people that David Cayley interviewed for his series of radio programs, 'How to Think About Science':

"Today it is a commonplace that science requires us to renounce the evidence of our senses if we are to understand the true nature of things. The truth lies behind or beneath the appearances. This loss of the senses has fateful consequences, according to Sajay Samuel, a professor at the Pennsylvania State University. Without common sense, he says, science fills ours entire horizon - leaving us no place to stand outside of science, and no basis on which to judge what science produces."

The 49-minute interview with Sajay was conducted in June, 2011, by Dougald Hine, a fellow Illich admirer. He describes himself as "a speaker, a writer or a creator of organisations, projects and events."

The Dark Mountain Project describes itself so:

This project starts with our sense that civilisation as we have known it is coming to an end; brought down by a rapidly changing climate, a cancerous economic system and the ongoing mass destruction of the non-human world. But it is driven by our belief that this age of collapse – which is already beginning – could also offer a new start, if we are careful in our choices.

The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop.

Deeper than oil, steel or bullets, a civilisation is built on stories: on the myths that shape it and the tales told of its origins and destiny. We have herded ourselves to the edge of a precipice with the stories we have told ourselves about who we are: the stories of ‘progress’, of the conquest of ‘nature’, of the centrality and supremacy of the human species.

It is time for new stories. The Dark Mountain Project intends to conjure into being new ways of seeing and writing about the world. We call this Uncivilisation.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Searching for Lee Hoinacki

Lee Hoinacki is one of Illich's closest collaborators, meeting him in 1960 when, as a Dominican priest, he went to CIDOC to learn Spanish. Illich credits him in several of his books as having contributed much to their clarity and substance. Mr. Hoinacki has written three books of his own: El Camino: Walking to Santiago de Compostela, Stumbling Toward Justice, and Dying is Not Death. The last of these includes a lengthy chapter about Illich. He also has published a number of papers relating to Illich, including "Why Philia?", and helped to translate books by others in the Illich circle.

Mr. Hoinacki joined Carl Mitcham in editing The Challenges of Ivan Illich, a collection of essays published in 2002. His opening essay, "Reading Ivan Illich," is available from the publisher's website, here. He writes:

Illich was trained in ecclesiology and was especially intrigued by liturgy. He understood, I would argue, that the most ominous expression of secularization in the West was not the death of nature (although this was related), nor a misnamed materialism, nor sexual “freedom,” but the decline of liturgy, the routinization and emptying out of religious ritual in the churches. As he suggests, this process began with clerical actions to establish various assured institutional responses to God’s calling, later legitimated by a juridical or legal order; men hesitated to rest all hope on gratuitous gifts of grace. Illich captures the dénouement of this lack of faith with the ancient Latin adage corruptio optimi quae est pessima (the corruption of the best turns out to be the worst). He has attempted to show that this apothegm accurately reveals the origins of “normative notions of a cruelty, of a horrifying darkness, which no other culture has ever known.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, portrays institutional mistrust as a demonic temptation in Ivan’s poem, “The Grand Inquisitor,” perhaps literature’s most terrifying image of the betrayal of the freedom graciously given to people by Jesus.

There is a Facebook page for Mr. Hoinacki, but it doesn't provide any information that's not available elsewhere - a short, widely-quoted bio is all. But here, there is a lengthy interview with him, recorded in 2000, in which he discusses his training as a priest, his encountering and working with Illich, his working a subsistence farm with his family in Illinois, and his exchange of letters with Theodore Kaczynski, known as the "Unabomber." And other topics.

Another interview, from 2010, appears at a site called Radio Free School. (This interview is also available as a podcast.) Mr. Hoinacki speaks about his long friendship with Illich, the futon bed he built for Illich, and the latter's thoughts on technology. For example:

Q: Illich's concerns around technology, what it’s doing to society - can we talk a little more about that?

Hoinacki: He was interested first of all in the effects of technology - the actual effects first of all and later the symbolic effects. He would use an example, say a photograph. The photograph was introduced in the 19th century and into history. But this technological artifact changed people’s perception so he thought it was a serious question which people should try to look at, figure out, whether anyone sees anything today. Period.

Recently, we found Mr. Hoinacki listed as part of a loosely-organized consulting organization calling itself New Paradigm Design, which includes architects, writers, artists, and others. Together, they focus on "sustainable solutions." Last we heard, Mr. Hoinacki was living in Philadelphia.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The marketing of 'Medical Nemesis'

Here is how the paperback edition of Illich's book Medical Nemesis looked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This is the edition we first bought (in December, 1981) and read - at the big Barnes & Noble store on lower Fifth Ave. in NYC - though our copy is priced at $2.75:


Read it and marvel, indeed. Note the heated language in that subhed. On the rear cover, it says "CAUTION: The medical establishment may be hazordous to your health," with that first word in red. "In this landmark book, one of the most brilliant social critics of our time exposes the many ways modern medicine is robbing us of power, money, dignity - even life itself."

And here, below, is the book as it is sold in paperback today, considerably more serene. This edition contains a new introduction by Illich, which is well worth reading for his reassessment of the book's argument and understanding of how systems-theoretic concepts were moving people to re-conceive their bodies in a radically new and quite flesh-less way. He expresses dismay that then, in 1995, sales of the book were mainly to medical students.


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