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#thinking-together
Title
# thinking-together
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Kartik Agaram

09/06/2023, 5:18 PM
Question for people who've read Tools for Conviviality Do you think "convivial" in the Illich sense has connotations of communality? Like, having a strong sense of membership in a coherent, shared community? I'd never really thought of it that way, but I was just chatting with a friend who's only skimmed the essay, and had that impression. Obviously I think I'm right, but I also wonder if I've been reading my own bias towards independence and self-sufficiency into the essay. I'd appreciate thoughts. "The future is a disagreement with the past about what is important." And at this point it doesn't matter what Illich intended, only what we in the audience tend to make of his words. If we tend to agree that conviviality is independent of social arrangements, and that it is equally applicable to gregarious people who like to be cheek by jowl with others and introverts who are more off on their own, this might suggest that the word "conviviality" isn't an ideal term in the year 2023 for a value a lot of us tend to aim towards here. It was a frontrunner in our long thread about renaming FoC (https://linen.futureofcoding.org/t/42821/here-s-a-big-one-apologies-in-advance-to-everyone-for-the-un) but perhaps it has some distracting connotations.
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Justin Blank

09/06/2023, 11:50 PM
Not quite an answer…I haven’t read Tools for Conviviality, but I read Deschooling Society, and I think Illich is very much interested in something like “mutual aid.” Parts of that book are reminiscent of the dream of the early Internet, as he envisions using technology to match people based on shared intellectual interests to discuss ideas, all outside of any educational system.
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Konrad Hinsen

09/07/2023, 4:47 AM
For me, conviviality as used by Illich (i.e. as I understand the term when reading Illich's book) does imply the existence of a community that shapes and is shaped by the tools, but not a strong sense of membership. Introverts are welcome 🙂 Outside of the context of Illich's book, this connotation is much stringer. See e.g. Merriam-Webster's definition of "convivial":
relating to, occupied with, or fond of feasting, drinking, and good company
When I first read the book, my immediate reaction was "he uses "convivial" in a weird sense". By now I am used to it, and use it myself in that way, but there is a constant risk of being misunderstood.
Summarizing what I wrote, I see Illich's use of the term "conviviality" as technical jargon: the use of a common-language term in a highly context-specific meaning that is not obvious to outsiders. Personally, as an interdisciplinary academic, I am used to dealing with technical jargon, but I guess most people are not.
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Jonas

09/07/2023, 9:37 AM
Just finished Deschooling Society today, where he also uses the term a lot in certain sections. Also read some LM Sacasas and Ursula Franklin on this or similar topics. And with regards to your question of "Do you think "convivial" in the Illich sense has connotations of communality? Like, having a strong sense of membership in a coherent, shared community?" I'll have to say: yes, absolutely in my opinion. And I'm having a hard time seeing how it could be different to be honest. Could you maybe go into a bit more detail about how you interpret the term? Also, I'm not seeing how introverts wouldn't fit into this. e.g. I'm highly introverted but couldn't exist or flourish in any way without a community–in my view, no human really can.
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curious_reader

09/07/2023, 10:21 AM
HI @Kartik Agaram may of our relationships today are shaped by words and embodied concepts. Ilich , as many others likes to reminds us thats US embodying those pricniples. Practicing conscious creating of culture (group behaviour) is a difficult thing as the observation also changes behaviour again... Its a bit like quantum physics in that sense. Buts its so interesting to see you come into this place where you start questionting the meaning of words used by people. HAHA I'm sometimes also there. Its a related territory to the place where alan kay referenced martin luther as a great interface designer because of the "invention" of a common german language. I think its a good thing to be in doubt or at least aware of the implications of using terms that lead to misunderstanding. Also somehow I wanted to ask if you have watched @Chris Martens (they/them) talk she shared about the topic here about 2 years ago.
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Eli Mellen

09/07/2023, 2:31 PM
I think Conviviality has a very specific meaning when used by Illich. He was a priest, and, in the church conviviality, or convivium is used to mean living in community. Typically it is used in the context of the Eucharist, which is also about sharing food and how food is shared around a table.
That being the case, I read Tools for Conviviality through the lens of “technologies that foster community,” or that bring folks together.
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Kartik Agaram

09/08/2023, 12:51 AM
Thanks a lot everyone for your replies. I'm starting to realize there's a thorny pre-problem in this discussion of even separating two ideas in my mind using the imprecise tool of language. Or at least my imperfect wielding of language. As I continue to poke at this, it seems worth leaving this quote from http://akkartik.name/illich.pdf (italicization identical to original):
After many doubts, and against the advice of friends whom I respect, I have chosen "convivial" as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools. In part this choice was conditioned by the desire to continue a discourse which had started with its Spanish cognate. The French cognate has been given technical meaning (for the kitchen) by Brillat−Savarin in his Physiology of Taste: Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. This specialized use of the term in French might explain why it has already proven effective in the unmistakably different and equally specialized context in which it will appear in this essay. I am aware that in English "convivial" now seeks the company of tipsy jollyness, which is distinct from that indicated by the OED and opposite to the austere meaning of modern "eutrapelia," which I intend. By applying the term "convivial" to tools rather than to people, I hope to forestall confusion.
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Eli Mellen

09/08/2023, 1:40 AM
An observation, wholly my own, and rooted in my experiences, but that I think is maybe useful here: In the computer and programming spaces I’ve occupied I’ve observed that folks, generally, want words to have precise meaning — nearly mathematical in their precision. But to an extreme, so that words can stand on their own. One word carrying a volume of concise meaning. Sort of holographically. This is almost never how language works. The fun of language is in playing with it, getting it to stretch and meld with context and use. A thing said once can be revisited later and mean something else. I think you are proverbially “getting it” in that you are raising these questions and playing them through. You are allowing the text to be a dialogue, not a static moment Chasing butterflies in a field instead of pinning them to a board for detailed observation that can’t be achieved in the wild.
Which leads to a big “how” question. My answer to that, personally, is to just go wild and swim in an absolute soup of sources. If I’m gonna read a philosophy text, I’m gonna read the biography of the philosopher and learn about the school they attended and who they studied under and if they had some other job…and on and on. Defo not like an always workable solution, but I enjoy it. All text is hypertext.
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Kartik Agaram

09/08/2023, 1:47 AM
You are all my sources.
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Eli Mellen

09/08/2023, 1:48 AM
Bringing us full circle back to conviviality!
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Konrad Hinsen

09/08/2023, 7:26 AM
@Kartik Agaram I ended up choosing the label "convivial" in the context of scientific computing (see https://osf.io/preprints/metaarxiv/nt96q/, in which this is only one topic among many others) after very much the same hesitations that you described. One additional motivation was to mention Illich's book and thus encourage people to read it.
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Alex McLean

09/18/2023, 9:56 AM
I haven't read it in a little while, but I found tools for conviviality a really individualistic approach to technological degrowth. He comes out pretty hard against universal healthcare and education. I found it a bit of a strange read in general
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curious_reader

09/18/2023, 10:30 AM
I recently skimmed the index of “the limits of medicine” and got a bit deeper into “deschooling society”. He has definitely some ideas on how to restructure society 😅 It’s almost like the problems of society are too big as to be addressed by his “solutions”. That said he brings up valid critiques of the social system.
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Konrad Hinsen

09/18/2023, 11:50 AM
@curious_reader It's all relative. If you put Illich into the category "postmodern thinkers", he ends up being among the most constructive ones 😉
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curious_reader

09/18/2023, 11:52 AM
Omg 😆 im so happy then to have at least that kind of structure. I think the deconstruction of postmodernism was important but now that we see some pieces better we should try also to do so.
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Justin Blank

09/18/2023, 11:53 AM
Admittedly, I’ve only read deschooling society not a wide range of Illich’s work, but nothing about the book was postmodern, imo.
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Konrad Hinsen

11/01/2023, 6:21 AM
I was looking at the book again while preparing a talk, and I noticed that Illich says quite a bit about his choice of the term: > After many doubts, and against the advice of friends whom I respect, I have chosen "convivial" as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools. In part this choice was conditioned by the desire to continue a discourse which had started with its Spanish cognate. The French cognate has been given technical meaning (for the kitchen) by Brillat-Savarin in his Physiology of Taste: Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. This specialized use of the term in French might explain why it has already proven effective in the unmistakably different and equally specialized context in which it will appear in this essay. I am aware that in English "convivial" now seeks the company of tipsy jollyness, which is distinct from that indicated by the OED and opposite to the austere meaning of modern "eutrapelia," which I intend. By applying the term "convivial" to tools rather than to people, I hope to forestall confusion. and later: > 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 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.
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curious_reader

11/09/2023, 11:32 AM
Thank you @Konrad Hinsen for sharing that insight
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