Ivan Illich's legacy (1926–2002) left no doubt about his politics — liberarian, radically reflective, spiritually aware, on the side of the dispossessed of the world … but his methods did not begin with rules or pre-suppositions. He was not a theorist with a club membership. Rather, he was as generous intellectually as he was personally, open to the full range of subjective experiences and their possible meanings. His "method," if he could be said to have one, was one of sheer conviviality. One took "the personal" seriously, as a responsibility that had global as well as intimate consequences. This federation of the infinite with the trivial gave everyone equal access to the truth, via a humility that came with renouncing the agency of learning in order to be open to the potential of the present.

do you need a zairja for your phd research?


Claudo Sgarbi and Don Kunze are PhDs (architecture theory; cultural–critical geography) with a belief in the personal meaningfulness of the PhD as a time of intense work, reflection, and accomplishment. Although PhDs are by definition conducted within the structured environment of academic programs, with numerous requirements, restrictions, traditions, and personalities bearing down, it is important for the candidate to maintain mental freedom and not think of the PhD degree as a "stepping-stone" or "key to future success," in the instrumental way such degrees are frequently marketed and regulated. 


Whatever external forces bear on PhD reseach, the quality and value of the dissertation is intensely individual and independent of these external demands. It is akin to the gestation of a child who, once born, will take his or her place within a social network complicated by many conflicting, complex forces; but there is the relation to the mother and the father that remains a primary source of meaning. The dissertation has this parent-child aspect, and the gestation period in both cases is a period of dreams, hopes, and aspirations open to innumerable futures that, no matter what forces later constrain growth, should somehow survive. 


There are no methods, services, or schools of thought to help in this period of development; all anticipate the point of birth, where "the child will be taken from the mother" so to speak. While birth is the intended outcome of research and writing a PhD, gestation is the time to consolidate what is singular about the relation of the knower with the known. This relation can never be destroyed, never be compromised. It is fully owned if the relationship during the production period is meditatively and thoughtfull understood as a personal element.


The program of reflection and support for graduate students and others engaged in institutional degree programs wishes to suspend the "institutional circumstances" of study in order to focus on the personal. It uses a method that does not favor a particular type of content or method. No field or vocation is excluded. At the level of critical theory, all branches of study go back to their common trunk, and then metaphorically to the roots of knowledge that ground that trunk.


The zairja is an open system, not a determinative dogma. There is no predictable outcome, only the experience of folding, turning, inverting, and combining to create uncanny encounters between improbable combinations of topics. In the process, the general question of subjectivity comes into focus and is left as an open question, however distinctively our individual fields of study have defined it. The zairja functions like a public brain: it can be shared, adjusted, set on overdrive. It depends on noise and error, accident and openness.


We hail Ivan Illich as the inventor of this method of inquiry and support, since the last fifteen years of his life were dedicated to bringing scholars of all kinds together for meaningful productive exchanges. Although these events took place around Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania (Kunze and Sgarbi's respective institutions), his kind of learning does not take place easily in the university setting. Competing ideologies force positions and stunt conversations. Illich's "convivial" method allowed any who sought help to get it, on whatever terms could be arranged. Thus, our rule is to respond to any intellectual proposal to the best of our ability. Like Illich, we favor the workshop format, where 12–16 participants share expenses and daily chores, preferably in some setting with sufficient calm and beauty. Smaller-scale events can also be useful.

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