Skärmklipp 2018-04-22 16.23.48


After some swift research today into the academic discourse on conviviality particularly in relation to cities, I am eager to know more. But that is for another blog, this is a summary of what I learned today.

It started with Ivan Illich: conviviality as a counter to monopoly by elite professional groups

Ivan Illich sought inclusion and the radical socialisation of knowledge, skills, technology and social power. He wrote that “[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a ‘radical monopoly’ on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a ‘war on subsistence’ that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but ‘modernized poverty’, dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.” (Madar, 2010) 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.” (Illich,1973)

”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.” — Ivan Illich (Illich,1973)

Convivial communities as opposed to citizens as consumer-users

Conviviality was discussed at a roundtable at Turning Tables at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, organised by the URBAN LAB+ International Network of Urban Laboratories and including the UCL Urban Laboratory. Cited from the programme:

In the modern age planners have considered citizens as consumer-users. On the contrary, a convivial society has the power to make its habitat and its tools. A convivial community is a community of makers. In a post-industrial age the convivial tools are useful to maximise the resilience of communities because they make possible a kind of production not linked to enforced consumption. The Convivial City is a paradigm to address the work of community in a scenario of laboratory_city. 

Conviviality as a counter to segregation – focus on Malmö

Back here in Malmö, Jonas Alwall, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Urban Studies at Malmö University, adopts the definition of conviviality by Paul Gilroy, Professor of sociology and African American Studies at Yale University  and asks in a conference paper (Alwall, 2012) , “although tentatively, if whether increased conviviality is – or could become – a solution to the kinds of urban challenges that the Malmö Commission is addressing.”

The Malmö Commission (The Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö, 2010) was given the task to ”assemble evidence and based on those strategies for reducing health inequalities and improving the long-term living conditions for the citizens of Malmö.” The reasons for the health inequalities lie in the structural requirements or health; lack of work (or bad working conditions), bad housing, educational problems, and a lack of economic and social resources.

Paul Gilroy, refers to conviviality “to the process of cohabitation and interaction that have made multiculture an ordinary feature of social life in (…) postcolonial cities.” (Gilroy 2004) As opposed to previous uses of the term, Paul Gilroy coins conviviality as a neutral conceptual tool giving it credibility according to Jonas Alwall who summarises conviviality according to Paul Gilroy to be about “how, when, and where people (more specifically where people embodying differences) encounter each other and interact socially. In this very simple way it can say something about the integration that actually takes place, beyond the integration policies and politics of inclusion,” in other words, “very openly” (Alwall, 2012)

With Castellas & Roch (Castellas & Roch, 2009) and ideas adopted from studies in Spain, the author discusses conviviality “as an object of study and as a concept with a potential for illustrating some of the processes by which, in this case, a city can become overtly ‘cosmopolitan’ thus breaking the patterns of segregation.”


Academic sources (other sources via links in texts)

Alwall , Dr. Theol. Jonas (2012) The remedy for segregation? Conviviality and the question of sustianable city development: the case of Malmö. (Paper for the conference IMMIGRANTS AND CIVIL SOCIETY – 16th Nordic Migration Research Conference & 9th ETMU Days, Turku, Finland, 13-15 August 2012)

Gilroy, Paul (2004): After Empire: Melancholia or convivial culture? London: Routledge. (Link to The Guardians book review)

Illich, Ivan (1973) Tools for Conviviality

Casellas López, Lorenzo & Jorge Rocha Cuesta (2009): “Del Culturalism a Ciudadanismo”. Intervención Psicosocial, Vol. 18, n.o 1, pp. 5-18. Madrid: Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos.

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