Major texts of Ivan Illich

In principle a selection, subject to debate, of those texts which best present Illich's key thoughts

Deschooling Society (1970) An analysis of the counter-productivity of modern education systems, which are a model for centralized consumer society.

Tools for Conviviality (1973)
In some respects a key text around conviviality as a guiding theme through the entire work of Ivan Illich, articulating his criticism of the role of technocracy in shaping an alienated society. Conviviality as a term borrowed from Latin American spoken language means basically living together in a non-alienated community, as opposed to a society dominated by modern institutions relying on expertise. Modern institutions must be analysed and shown to be counter-productive on their own terms. Counter-productivity is a necessary consequence of increased productivity, which is used as an argument to motivate the existence of institutions.

Energy and Equity (1973) Analysis of the counterproductivity of modern transportation systems. "Above a threshold, energy grows at the expense of equity
". Ivan Illich argues that it is essential to limit speed.

Medical Nemesis (1976) An analysis of the counter-productivity of modern health systems. Modern medicine appropriates the monopoly on health by devaluing death and suffering.

e Right to useful unemployment (1975)
A defence of subsistence against paid and shadow work.

Disabling Professions (1977) A pleading against alienating expert institutions.

Toward a History of Needs (1978) An analysis of the generation of needs as the foundation of modern economy as management of scarcity.

Shadow Work
The notion of shadow work was developed by Ivan Illich to denote alienating unpaid work within a context of paid work as opposed to convivial subsistence work independent of a context of paid work.

Gender (1982) The book introduces the distinction between gender and sex and claims the repression of gender on behalf of sex in modernity. Gender denotes the polarity of feminine and masculine shaping what we call a person. Sex is the opposite: the differentiation of the feminine and masculine out of a neutral entity. Sex is a modern construct which has the purpose to make an economy of scarcity possible. Gender must be rediscovered as the realm of convivial society.

H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness (1985) Contrasts water as a chemical substance intended for cleaning with water as a metaphor for forgetting and remembering. Short version in In the Mirror of the Past.

ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind (
The genesis of literacy as a process of alienation.

In the Mirror of the Past (1992)
A collection of shorter texts, mostly talks given between 1978 and 1990, directly or indirectly related to Ivan Illich’s favoured method of research indicated in the title: revealing current trends against the background of history, “to loosen the spell by studying how it was cast” (p. 150).

- Towards an economy of waste

- Silence is a commons

- Dwelling

- H2O and the waters of forgetfulness
A concise version of the book. Water carries smells and memories, whereas H2O washes them away. Water is transformed into H2O as enlightenment shifts from smell, taste and hearing to vision as the leading sense.

- A plea for research on lay literacy The visualisation of speech makes reading independent of speaking. The separation of text from sound generates lay literacy and the internalisation of a fixed sense of identity. This process is due to the introduction of alphabetic notation and is completed in the 12th Century. Ivan Illich calls for a better knowledge of lay literacy.

- Mnemosyne: The mold of memory Lay literacy, the result of the separation of writing from voice, is being suppressed by computerization through the separation of text from meaning. Like text, the modern word for writing independent of voice, communication is the new word for text independent of meaning. Ivan Illich calls to resist an internalisation of communication producing the loss of the sense of self, similar to the internalisation of text linking the self to fixed identity.

- Computer literacy and the cybernetic dream
An analysis of computerisation.

In the Vineyard of the Text (1993)
The genesis of lay literacy. Short versions in In the mirror of the past.

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