Author of an informal series of polemical critiques of the institutions of 'modern' culture, disliked as much by right wing as by left wing commentators, he addressed issues from education to medicine to work to energy use and economic development to gender.
From 1932 to 1946 he studied theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in the Vatican, and worked as a priest in New York. In 1956 he was appointed vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and in 1961 founded the Centro Intercultural de Documatación (CIDOC) at Cuernavaca in Mexico, a research centre offering courses to missionaries from North America.
After 10 years the radicalism of CIDOC began to bring the instituion into conflict with the Vatican, and it was wound up by the consent of its members. Illich himself resigned as a priest.
From that point on, he was an incessant traveller, collaborating with others across the globe.
His most celebrated work remains Deschooling Society ISBN 0060803818 (1971), a critical discourse on education as practised in 'modern' economies. Full of detail on then current programmes and concerns, the book can seem dated, but its core assertions and propositions remain as radical today as they were at the time. Giving real world examples of the inneffectual nature of institutionalised education, Illich posited self directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid, informal arrangements:
- ?Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.?
The book is more than a critique - it contains positive suggestions for a reinvention of learning throughout society and throughout every individual lifetime. Of particular relevance here is his call (from a 1971 perspective) for the use of advanced technology to support ?learning webs?. Many characteristics of these as described relate strongly to the nature and use of the WWW in general, and strongly to the workings and ideals of this Wikipedia.