Calling the Eight Corners

Calling the Eight Corners, Keeping the Convivial Questions Alive 

by Kristin D. Jones

Kristin Jones

Our current era “is propitious for a major change of direction in search of a hopeful future” (Illich, 2004/1970, p. 111). Illich said these words of 1971, as applicable today as they were then. Any hope in the future must include keeping the convivial questions alive.[1]

In many indigenous and pagan traditions, communities call the four corners to initiate a sacred gathering. North, fire… east, wind… south, water… west, earth… I invite you to call the eight corners with me, alluding to four cardinal directions and the four intermediate points—ordinal directions—that fall between them; eight corners also refers to the eight festivals of many indigenous cultures—at the equinoxes, solstices and the half-way points in between. Join with me in vocalizing the eight convivial questions, or calling the eight corners, that we must keep alive in order to move forward in this current ecological crisis.[2]


1. What is conviviality?


With life.

In community.

Through meaningful interactions.

Meaningful environments.[3]

Celebrating awareness.

Celebrating the present.

Refuse to live in the shadow of the future.[4]

Let us ask:

How can we be useful to each other?

Let hospitality and friendship guide us

toward foolish renunciation.[5]



2. What is enough?

Love. Relationships.

The Arts.

Spiritual Connectedness.

Food. Water. Shelter.


What is enough?

Less than we think.


Stop at Target.

Pick up pizza.

Get gas.

Be quiet. Watch TV.

Leave me alone.

What is important?

More than we think.


3. What is culture?

We must learn to survive,

in this place,

in this time,




We use our gifts.


We create.

Hospitality is abundant.[8]



Race, Ethnicity.



We live and learn together in the commons,[9]

Moving beyond tolerance,

Toward allophilia,

Never diminishing our differences.[10]


4. What are the unspeakable technologies?

Facebook. PBS.

Atomic Bomb. Outsourcing.


Orality done.[11]

Text on its way out.

Computer. Machine.


Faster. Easier. Done.

Done Better.


Done Best.


Do I push you away

when I’m on the phone

on the computer

driving the car

using the microwave?

What discussion shall we have

if these technologies are unspeakable?[12]


5. Where do we place limits?

We have no limits on technology…


Turn off the television.

Unplug the computer.

Mute the cell phone.

Park the car.


We have no limits to protect our ecology…

Eat locally.[13]

Eat slowly.[14]

Eat food.[15]

Eat together.







Recycle. Reuse.

Collect Rainwater.

Use eco-toilets.

Join Oil-holics Anonymous.


We have no limits on spending money…



Hair cuts.

Breasts dripping milk.








Make believe.








6. How do we organize around friendship and hospitality?

I meet you face to face,

not on Facebook.

I look into your eyes,

not your profile.

We debate,

not instant message.

I ask you,

not google you.


Hearth and home honored,

As we gather in this place.

Drink wine.

Eat bread.[17]


7. What stories should guide us?


We remember.[18]


We set limits.[19]



We honor the dwelling.


We seek justice.


We dance.


We choose community.


We unite community.


8. How/where do we find hope?


Pay attention.

Celebrate awareness.[20]


Find joy in each other.


Kristin D. Jones, Ph.D., lives in the north suburbs of Chicago where she raises her two daughters and teaches for Concordia University Chicago and The International TEFL Academy. She strives to connect education, family, community, and language learning to environmental and sustainability issues. 


Berry, W. (2010). What matters?: Economics for a renewed commonwealth.Berkely,CA: Counterpoint.

CIDOC2: Convocations for Intercultural Dialogue on Conviviality and Community. (2010). Living Beyond the Ecological Crisis. Initial conference gathering.Chicago.

Esteva, G. & Prakash, M. S. (1998). Grassroots postmodernism: Beyond  human rights, the individual self, and the global economy. New York: Peter  Lang.

Grego, D. (2006). Illich’s table. Vitae Scholasticae, 23, 5-15.

Illich, I.(2004/1970). Deschooling society.New York:Marion Boyars.

Illich, I.(1985). H20 and the waters of forgetfulness.Dallas,TX: TheDallasInstitute ofHumanities and Culture.

Illich, I.(1980). Toward a history of needs.New York: Bantam.

Illich, I. & Sanders, B. (1988). The alphabetization of the popular mind. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Kingsolver, B. (2007). Animal, vegetable, miracle: A year of food life.New York: Harper Collins.

Petrini, C. (2001). Slow food: The case for taste.New York:ColumbiaUniversity Press.

Pinar, W.F. (2008). Keeping the curriculum question alive: Appreciating Ann Lynn Lopez Schubert (1952-2006). Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 5(1), 19-25.

Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma: A natural history of four meals.New York: Penguin Press.

Pollan, M. (2008). In defense of food: An eater’s manifesto.New York: Penguin Press.

Prakash, M.S. (2002). A letter on studying with master Illich. In L. Hoinacki & C. Mitcham (Eds.), The challenges of Ivan Illich: A collective reflection (pp. 141-152). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Prakash, M.S. (2009). Rajinder’s remarkable rasoi: What my mother’s village kitchen can teach American schools. Yes! 49 (spring), 48-50.

Reboot. (2010). Sabbath Manifesto. Retrieved September 20, 2010.

Sanders, B. (2002). ABC redux: Or literacy matters. And how! In Hoinacki, L. & Mitcham, C. (Eds.), The challenges of Ivan Illich: A collective reflection (pp.  89-100).New York:StateUniversity ofNew York Press.


[1] In using this concept of “keeping questions alive,” we metaphorically light a candle in honor of Ann Lynn Lopez Schubert. In honoring her, William Pinar (2008) describers her: “What a remarkable mind Ann Lynn Lopez Schubert was: original, creative, courageous, always committed to keeping the curriculum question alive” (p. 19).  May we light a second candle to honor Ivan Illich, a prophetic voice warning of the collapse of conviviality, taken from this world much too early.

[2] By ecological crisis, I refer not only to environmental crises we currently face worldwide, but also the social and economic crisis we refer to as “globalization” that affects each of our ecologies.

[3] I refer here to Illich’s (1980) quote: “A joyful life is one of constant meaningful intercourse with others in a meaningful environment” (p. 108).

[4] John McKnight (CIDOC2, 2010) quotes Ivan Illich as once saying “I refuse to live in the shadow of the future.”

[5] Daniel Grego (CIDOC2, 2010) invokes the voice of Illich by sharing that conviviality involves hospitality, friendship, being useful to each other, and foolish renunciation (creating limits on certain aspects of our lives in order to allow for the good life).

[6] We have commodified all of these needs. See Illich (1980) for a discussion of commodification.

[7] Daniel Grego offers a definition of culture in the Illichean sense: “the way people have learned, through time, to survive in a place” (CIDOC2, 2010).

[8] John McKnight shares the characteristics of an abundant community, including the utilization of the gifts of all, endless power to create through association, and abundant hospitality (CIDOC2, 2010).

[9] For a more in-depth discussion of life in the commons, see Esteva and Prakash (1998).

[10] For more on this idea of allophilia, or love of “other,” see Pittinsky et al (2007).

[11] Humanity has moved from a species of orality, to textuality, to now something we might call “constrained by computers” (see Sanders, 2002 and Illich & Sanders, 1988).

[12] John McKnight recalls a time when Illich protested an atomic bomb discussion because the topic was simply “unspeakable” (CIDOC2, 2010).

[13] Eating local food connects us more to our community, eases our industrial stress on our environment, and overall gives us better health. Read a personal account of local food growing and eating in Kingsolver (2007).

[14] “Slow food” involves an alternative to “fast food” and connects us to a more convivial action of eating with others rather than on-the-go. See Prakash (2009) and Petrini (2001) for more on the “slow food” movement.

[15] “Eat food” refers to the concept that most of the American diet, i.e. industrial food, is not actually food. See Pollan (2006) and Pollan (2008).

[16] Maylan Dunn-Kenney (CIDOC2, 2010) discusses laws against clotheslines as revealing the senseless legal barriers toward conviviality.

[17] “Drink wine” and “eat bread” refer to both the Sabbath Manifesto (Reboot, 2010) and the Illichean practice of hospitality and gathering friends for food, wine, and conversation (see Prakash, 2002, and Grego, 2006).

[18] Illich (1985) tells the story of Mnemosyne, from Greek mythology, illustrating our loss of forgetfulness. We remember the stories that have shaped us, guiding us toward our own new stories.

[19] Setting limits becomes integral in recovering and creating conviviality (seeBerry, 2010). Illich (2004/1970) also refers to the limits involved in conviviality through the story of Epimetheus.

[20] Dan Grego (CIDOC2, 2010) invokes the voice of Ivan Illich, relating the importance of paying attention and celebrating awareness in our search for conviviality.

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