Ivan Illich was one of the many prominent social critics of the 1960s and ’70s. He left behind a toolkit (e.g., Tools for Conviviality ) for politics and friendship in our times. The invitation of this program is to pick up a few tools and get to work.
Illich wrote piercing critiques of schools ( Deschooling Society ), modern health care ( Medical Nemesis ), the labor-capital economy ( The Right to Useful Unemployment and Shadow Work ), and transportation that seats people behind screens (the automobile’s windscreen and, later, the computer screen through which one can “go anywhere” as long as one agrees not to move at all). In Toward a History of Needs, Illich collected his complaints about how modern institutions turn people into needy individuals instead of competent members of communities. He was arguably “against everything” that constitutes modernity.
All of his critiques were historically informed so that he could draw on history to imagine possibilities beyond modernity. Before children were schooled, small people grew into socially competent people through learning. (He was even against the very ideas of “child” and “childhood” because he knew the history of “childhood.”) Before medicine turned us all into patients, people could impatiently seek local wisdom for living well in their community. Before the appearance of a new technology called “books” in the 12 th century, mumbling monks would pluck syllables and words from the “vine” of a text’s line, ruminate on them, and make those words and phrases part of themselves. Illich wrote Tools for Conviviality to imagine locally useful political toolkits to foster self-reliance, mutuality, immediacy (which he opposed to our hyper-mediated times), locality, hope (instead of our ubiquitous “expectations” and planning) and, above all, friendship. He knew the virtue (not the “value”!) of inviting the friend across his threshold for enlivening talk, comida , and all the rest. You could start your own work there.
We’ll read material by and about Illich and talk together about all that. With determination, a little luck and sustaining hope, we may be able to write our way out of our times and into vitalizing friendships and more palatable politics.
Students will need a reliable Internet connection capable of maintaining visual and audible communication, a computer with microphone/speaker and a camera during synchronous meetings. Synchronous hours per week with the program: 8 hrs; with members of one’s peer group: 2 hrs. Our approach will emphasize participation in synchronous (live) sessions; however, if students find themselves unable to participate due to technology, caregiving obligations, economic disruption, health risk, or illness, they can work with faculty to pursue alternate options to earn related credit.