Ungovernable Counter-Conduct: Ivan Illich’s Critique of Governmentality


  • Tim Christiaens Tilburg University




Governmentality, Counter-conducts, Ivan Illich, Decolonization, Zapatismo


Within Michel Foucault’s own conceptualization of governmentality, there is little room for something like ‘ungovernable life’. The latter seems to hint at a form of social conduct beyond power-relations, which would offend Foucault’s basic philosophical postulates. I argue that this identification between governmentality and power as such demonstrates a one-sided focus on the history of Western power-relations. By opposing Foucault’s genealogy of governmentality to Ivan Illich’s critical history of government, I delineate indigenous struggles against governmentalization as a form of ungovernable counter-conduct. Throughout his books from the 1970s to 1990s, Illich wrote a critical history of government surprisingly similar to Foucault’s, from the pastorate to modern political economy. However, rather than merely describing this history, Illich argued governmentalization alienated human beings from their autonomy. As a former missionary priest, he criticized the Church’s and modern governments’ attempts to subsume populations under a conduct of conducts. He advocated anticolonial resistance to subsumption under Western governmental regimes. In Illich’s appreciation of decolonized life, an ungovernable form of life can be discovered, which I defend with the example of Zapatismo and indigenous self-government through mandar obedeciendo.

Author Biography

Tim Christiaens, Tilburg University

Dr Tim Christiaens is assistant professor of philosophy and economic ethics at Tilburg University, Netherlands. His research focuses on the intersection between economic topics, like the digitalisation of work, neoliberalism, and financialisation, and contemporary critical theory. Tim has recently published a book on Digital Working Lives (2022) with Rowman & Littlefield, and his research has appeared in, among others, Theory, Culture & Society, European Journal of Social Theory, and Philosophy & Social Criticism.


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How to Cite

Christiaens, T. (2023). Ungovernable Counter-Conduct: Ivan Illich’s Critique of Governmentality. Foucault Studies, (34), 25–51. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.i34.6934