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Tools for Conviviality

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Tools for Conviviality was published only two years after Deschooling Society. In this work, Illich generalized the themes that he had previously applied to the field of education: the institutionalization of specialized knowledge, the dominant role of technocratic elites in industrial society, and the need to develop new instruments for the reconquest of practical knowledge by the average citizen. Illich proposed that we should 'invert the present deep structure of tools' in order to give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency.' Tools for Conviviality attracted worldwide attention. A resume of it was published by French social philosopher Andre Gorz in Les Temps Modernes, under the title 'Freeing the Future'. The book's vision of tools that would be developed and maintained by a community of users had significant influence of the first developers of the personal computer, notably Lee Felsentein.

Illich wrote: 'I choose the term 'conviviality' to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment, and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be the individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society's members.'

The conviviality for which noted social philosopher Ivan Illich is arguing is one in which the individual's personal energies are under direct personal control and in which the use of tools irresponsibly limited. A work of seminal importance, this book claims our attention for the urgency of its appeal, the stunning clarity of its logic and the overwhelming human note that it sounds.

Published: Jan 10, 2001

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
Introduction Ivan Illich
I. Two Watersheds
Two Watersheds Ivan Illich
II. Convivial Reconstruction
Convivial Reconstruction Ivan Illich
III. The Multiple Balance
1. Biological Degradation Ivan Illich
2. Radical Monopoly Ivan Illich
3. Overprogramming Ivan Illich
4. Polarization Ivan Illich
5. Obsolescence Ivan Illich
6. Frustration Ivan Illich
IV. Recovery
1. The Demytholization of Science Ivan Illich
2. The Rediscovery of Language Ivan Illich
3. The Recovery of Legal Procedure Ivan Illich
V. Political Inversion
1. Myths and Majorities Ivan Illich
2. From Breakdown to Chaos Ivan Illich
3. Insight into Crisis Ivan Illich
4. Sudden Change Ivan Illich


Illich argued that we will never be an effective society until we take back control over tools and institutions that negate our own natural abilities. Illich believed that tools are intrinsic to social relationships. They should not enforce power and compulsion, but rather encourage participation, trust and sociability: “Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision. Industrial tools deny this possibility to those who use them, and they allow their designers to determine the meaning and expectations of others.”
Design Museum

Ivan Illich is a famous and savage critic of industrial society. I am in total agreement with many of [his] wider arguments.
Times Education Supplement