Ivan Illich

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Illich, Ivan

(1926-) Viennese-born libertarian philosopher, social critic, and one-time Roman Catholic priest, currently based in Mexico, whose provocative critique of economic development has attracted much attention. Illich regards so-called economic development as, in reality, leading to the destruction of the vernacular skills previously possessed by people in self-sufficient preindustrial economies.

According to Illich, people have become increasingly dependent on professionals, experts and specialists for the satisfaction of many of their fundamental needs – e.g. the provision of health services and compulsory schooling. In Illich's terms, the provision of such services have often become radical monopolies, since, with the destruction of earlier traditions, there is often no longer any alternative but to have recourse to such expert provision, and in many ways the services offered by such experts are debilitating and dehumanizing. leading to ‘passive consumption’ and dependency The solutions proposed by Illich are for more democratic, participatory structures that foster human autonomy, e.g. instead of compulsory education, access to a choice of ‘educational frameworks’; instead of hierarchically controlled specialist services, the establishment of ‘communication networks’ for the mutual exchange of services. Another of Illich's suggestions is that ‘high quanta of energy degrade social relations’ as much as physical milieu, and that, accordingly, the bicycle is the mode of transport most compatible with egalitarian participatory principles. While Illich's thinking is utopian and polemical, his combination of a religious romantic conservatism with radical critique has stimulated sociological reflection. Main works by Illich are Deschooling Society (1972), Tools for Conviviality (1973), Medical Nemesis:

The Expropriation of Health (1975) and Shadow-work (1981). See also DESCHOOLING, HIDDEN CURRICULUM, IATROGENIC DISEASE.