READ | Planning/Conviviality

Posted on 09/03/2013


I’ve just been reminded, by Luke J, of the remarkable writings of Ivan Illich. I recall reading some of this work in the 80s as it was embraced by progressive thinkers, educators and activists. As I revisit it – Tools for Conviviality – the commentary about professions and institutions still seems relevant and resonant. I’d forgotten how textural and textual this work could be. Conviviality, as a central aspiration for societies and places, often appears in planning literature; Illich advocates for convivial tools and systems and it is questionable as to whether planning, as an institution and/or profession, is or could be considered convivial. Planning, however, is also a practice and there’s possibly something in the practice of planning as profession and/or institution that might embrace conviviality through the adaption of its tools. Illich’s key concepts include ‘radical monopoly’, ‘counterproductivity’ and ‘specific diseconomy’ (Wikipedia provides some definitions).

Having addressed health, education, energy and transportation, he has this to say about planning as a potentially ‘unconvivial and manipulative tool’ which can become ‘counterproductive’:

The illusion is common that planners with socialist ideals might somehow create a socialist society in which industrial workers constitute a majority. The proponents of this idea overlook the fact that anticonvivial and manipulative tools can fit into a socialist society in only a very limited measure. Once transportation, education, or medicine is offered by a government free of cost, its use can be enforced by moral guardians. The underconsumer can be blamed for sabotage of the national effort. In a market economy, someone who wants to cure his flu by staying in bed will be penalized only through loss of income. In a society that appeals to the “people” to meet centrally determined production goals, resistance to the consumption of medicine becomes an act of public immorality. Protection against radical monopoly depends on a political consensus opposed to growth. Such a consensus is diametrically opposed to the issues now raised by political oppositions, since these converge in the demand to increase growth and to provide more and better things for more completely disabled people.

Both the balance that defines man’s [sic] need for a hospitable environment and the balance that defines everyone’s need for authentic activity are now close to the breaking point. And still this danger does not concern most people. It must now be explained why most people are either blind to this threat or feel helpless to correct it. I believe that the blindness is due to the decline in a third balance – the balance of learning – and that the impotence people experience is the result of yet a fourth upset in what I call the balance of power.

Critique of urban planning is further pursued in Energy and Equity, in which he addresseses issues of limits, sustainability and ecology. See interview: The Shadow Our Future Throws: Interview with Ivan Illich: ‘The pressing questions today are: “After Development, What? What concepts? What symbols? What images?” In order to find an alternative language, one must return to the past–to discover the history of those invented certitudes that are the mythological crystallization points around which modern experience is organized, certitudes like “need,” “growth,” “participation,” “development”.’ Segue to Long Time, No See? project

Posted in: planning, theory, thought