Illich in the valley : applying conviviality as a lens for development in tribal India
Abstract: Sustainability has long been serving dominant political and economic interests under the guise of sustainable development. This political and economic co-option of sustainable development has given rise to a new slogan: “system change, not climate change”. Our crisis is no longer just an environmental one, but a structural one, in which our means of living have outdistanced the ends for which we live. One intellect who recognised this structural crisis was Ivan Illich, a radical thinker whose work was concerned with the structure of tools in our society. He believed that many of our tools today are manipulated by an industrial agenda that shape our meanings and expectations. Recognising this structural corruption, Illich provided conviviality as an alternative structure for society. A convivial society is one which maximises autonomy and fosters learning, sociality and community, while bound by responsibly limited tools. Although far from our current reality, the growing urgency of our environmental crisis beckons the need for more radical thoughts and approaches for sustainability. As such, this research applied conviviality as a lens to assess development, with a focus on development in the Apatani valley of northeast India. The Apatanis were a secluded and self-contained tribe in northeast India up until 1944, when colonial influences established a preliminary government outpost. Since that time, their society has undergone rapid state-led transformation towards a capitalist economy. By applying conviviality as a lens for development, this research has highlighted deep structural challenges for sustainability, not only in the Apatani valley, but the world at large. By looking beyond the surface of our tools and questioning their underlying structures, conviviality inspires the radical thought and hope we need for a truly sustainable world.
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