Gustavo Esteva
Gustavo Esteva is a Mexican
Mexican people
Mexican people refers to all persons from Mexico, a multiethnic country in North America, and/or who identify with the Mexican cultural and/or national identity....

 activist, "deprofessionalized intellectual" and founder of the Universidad de la Tierra in the Mexican
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 city of Oaxaca. He is one of the best known advocates of Post-Development.


Esteva's life - as he tells it himself - has been marked by many ruptures; there also many facts to confirm this view. Esteva has worked in very different environments.

Esteva's father died early. "At 15, I was forced to support an extended family of siblings, aunts and cousins, becoming first an office-boy in a bank; and, then, thanks to Truman’s Development, the youngest executive ever for IBM
International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...

. Thanks to the Development experts and their Education projects for underdeveloped Mexicans, I had arrived!!! With my newly minted education credit hours, I could be at the very center of the Development Epic: providing good services to the community, good conditions for the workers and good profits to the stakeholders; while of course, gaining a solid income, prestige and a sports car." "Part of my function, as personnel manager, was to contribute to a process of indoctrination that forged loyalty of the workers to the company. The workers had to submit to that ideological straitjacket, according to which to struggle for the good of the company meant to struggle for one’s own interests."

Esteva worked for different companies. "Despite the personal discomfort brought about by an increasing awareness of the fraud of the original promise of my profession, I advanced rapidly in my career." Finally he turned to the public sector. He worked for the Bank of foreign trade and joined a marxist group with revolutionary aspirations which he quit in 1965.

"When I accepted an important position in government, I did not do it with the idea of making the revolution from within government, or to promote relevant social change. I needed a salary and I sought refuge in my work, while I was still trying to achieve some clarity within me and about what to do. In the following years, while I worked in the office of the President in charge of planning the public budget, I dedicated a good part of my free time, many hours and days of work, to the writing of my first book: Economy and Alienation. I would close myself in my room, separating the intellectual activity from the rest of the things I was doing. It is perhaps the only one of my texts to which I seriously dedicated a prolonged effort of research and reflection. It is a book which I still value and which contains arguments and reflective analysis which I still support. It allowed me to formulate a conception of the world and an attitude towards change that does not require violence."

From 1970 to 1976 he was a high-ranking official in the government of President Echeverría
Luis Echeverría
Luis Echeverría Álvarez served as President of Mexico from 1970 to 1976.-Early history:Echeverría joined the faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1947 and taught political theory...


When he gave up as this job he was totally disillusioned about statist development practices. "Even the best development programs, like those I was conceiving and implementing, were totally counterproductive: damaging to their supposed beneficiaries." "A long session with [the next president][...]López Portillo and his top advisors two weeks before he took office removed any doubts for me as to the path I should take. In that session the President announced unequivocally that his policies would be adverse to the peasants. Five days after this session I initiated the first of two non profit organizations, entering thus the world of civil society
Civil society
Civil society is composed of the totality of many voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state , the commercial institutions of the market, and private criminal...

 in which I have been working since then."

In 1983 he met Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and "maverick social critic" of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.- Personal life...

. "[...] I was invited to a Seminar in Mexico City on the social construction of energy with Wolfgang Sachs
Wolfgang Sachs
-Wolfgang Sachs:Wolfgang Sachs is a researcher, writer and university teacher in the field of environment, development, and globalization.He studied sociology and Catholic theology in Munich, Tübingen and Berkeley...

. Ivan was there. I was mesmerized. That very night, I embarked on my Illich studium. A little later, I started to collaborate with him. Still later, slowly, we became friends."

He was an advisor with the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

 for the negotiations with the government. He works at the Centre for Intercultural Dialogues and Exchanges (CEDI) in the city of Oaxaca, publishes regularly in different journals, and works with Indian groups and NGOs.


Esteva had a catholic upbringing. When he lost his faith
Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. In religion, faith is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition,...

 in God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 he replaced it with a faith in reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

. Through he studies he became familiar with instrumental rationality
Instrumental rationality
Two views of instrumental rationality can be discerned in modern philosophy: one view comes from social philosophy, sociology and critical theory, whereas another comes from natural philosophy.-The view from critical theory and social philosophy:...

; dissatisfied he turned, after some soul searching, to marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

. During the 70s Esteva "[...] took part in a very intense debate regarding the peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

s. The debate took place throughout Latin America and especially in Mexico, which partially were resonating to a world debate. The topic of this debate allowed me to advance a radical critique of Marxism’s well-known position on the peasants. I was classified as a 'campesinista' in contrast to various other intellectual positions, in a debate basically celebrated within the Marxist framework. Even though I continued, for a long time, to consider myself a Marxist, little by little I abandoned Marxism as a doctrine and as a political and ideological orientation. [...] In that process, through which I came closer and closer in contact with the concrete activities of peasants, I was able to question the categories of all the disciplines in which I had been educated or which I had learned on my own. I began to formulate a radical critique of development. This change in my thinking could be clearly seen in the name of an umbrella organization, Analysis, Development and Gestión, created in 1979 to coordinate the actions of many other NGOs we had constituted in that period.

I suspect that the most important rupture in my life occurred when I began to remember my experiences with my grandmother as a child. She could not come to our house in Mexico City through the front door because she was an Indian. She was not allowed by my mother to talk to us in Zapotec
Zapotec language
The Zapotec language are a group of closely related indigenous Mesoamerican languages spoken by the Zapotec people from the southwestern-central highlands of Mexico. Present-day native speakers are estimated to number over half a million, with the majority inhabiting the state of Oaxaca....

 or tell us stories about her community. My mother assumed that the best she could do for her children was to radically uproot them from their Indian ancestry. But I adored my grandmother and during holidays asked to be sent with her, to Oaxaca. Remembering my grandmother, remembering what she taught me in spite of the restrictions imposed by my mother –something I had in the back of my mind through my previous journey-, re-membered me with the people at the grassroots. I described this experience in a text written in 1986 and which I still consider an important guiding text, “Regenerating People’s Space.” In this text I alluded to the new questions that I began to ask myself in that time, and also some of the ways in which I began to confront them. My theoretical work on people of the margins, which was abundant in those years, very clearly shows a new path which was consolidated and affirmed when I met Ivan Illich in 1983.

The rupture with previous ways of thinking and acting is clearly evident in the 80s. What I did and what I wrote clearly illustrates it. I still, however, found myself, especially in the sphere of ideas, rooted in the Western horizon of intelligibility. Only after moving to live in the Zapotec village of San Pablo Etla, in Oaxaca, in 1989, and after my involvement with the Zapatistas starting in 1994, was I able to abandon that horizon and seriously entertain the possibility that a new horizon had appeared for me, even though I was still not able to fully articulate it."

With marxism Esteva has given up all ideas about a vanguard
In the context of revolutionary struggle, vanguardism is a strategy whereby an organization attempts to place itself at the center of the movement, and steer it in a direction consistent with its ideology....

. He is an advocate of radical pluralism.

Discussing the national identity
Identity (social science)
Identity is a term used to describe a person's conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations . The term is used more specifically in psychology and sociology, and is given a great deal of attention in social psychology...

 Esteva refers to Guillermo Bonfil' distinction between a profund (México profundo) and an imaginary Mexico (México imaginario). He questions the modern obsession with planning the future
The future is the indefinite time period after the present. Its arrival is considered inevitable due to the existence of time and the laws of physics. Due to the nature of the reality and the unavoidability of the future, everything that currently exists and will exist is temporary and will come...

 and "projects" of all kinds:

"The national project has been based entirely on proposals put forth by imaginary Mexico. [...] A project implies projecting oneself into the future. Modern humans want to construct the world according to the image
An image is an artifact, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject—usually a physical object or a person.-Characteristics:...

 they have of themselves, their representation of the world, as opposed to accepting that they are constructed in the image and semblance of God or by tradition (Villoro, 1992). They need a project. The Mexican elite inherited and accepted this compulsion, but it did
not attempt to invent its own project: instead it relied on the Western model, which it believed to be universal. All that was necessary was to impose it, with the adaptations that each generation considered appropriate."

The contrasting attitude of the indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

, according to Esteva, is not to reject change
Change may refer to:- The process of becoming different:* Social change* Biological metamorphosis* Change , the mathematical study of change* Percentage change, in statistics* Fold change, in statistics...

, but "[...]one of their best traditions, which explains that historical continuity
Continuity may refer to:In mathematics:* The opposing concept to discreteness; common examples include:** Continuous probability distribution or random variable in probability and statistics...

, is that of transforming tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

 in a traditional way. They know that they cannot exist without a vision of the future, but they do not pretend to control that future: instead of the arrogant expectations of modern man, based on the assumption that the future is programmable, they maintain hopes, well aware that these may or not be fulfilled: they nourish them to keep them alive but without holding onto them. They have not been able to avoid the experience of modernity, but they have not become rooted in it."

Traditionally the inigenous people did not oppose their own project to the dominant project - but times have changed: "Today, however, two factors are for the first time driving the people of
deep Mexico to articulate their own project: the urgency of confronting the latest version of the dominant project, in which there is no dignified space for them, with a unified vision that expresses the diversity of their own ideas and interests and the fact that this latest dominant project has aggravated the historical conflict between Mexicans to the point that it has depleted the original justification for nationhood-indeed, were it to continue it would divide
Mexican society in a way that would be unsustainable."

Selected works

  • David Barkin, Gustavo Esteva: Inflación y Democracia : El Caso de México, México : Siglo XXI, 1979
  • Gustavo Esteva: Economía y enajenación [Economy and alienation], México, D.F. : Biblioteca Universidad Veracruzana, 1980
  • Gustavo Esteva: La batalla en el México rural, México : Siglo XXI, 1982.
  • James E. Austin and Gustavo Esteva (ed.):Food policy en Mexico : the search for selfsufficiency, Ithaca ; London : Cornell Univ. Pr., 1987
  • Gustavo Esteva: Fiesta - jenseits von Entwicklung, Hilfe und Politik, Frankfurt a. M. : Brandes & Apsel, 1992 -German translation of a selection of essays, enlarged second edition in 1995
  • Gustavo Esteva: Crónica del fin de una era : el secreto del EZLN, México : Ed. Posada, 1994
  • Gustavo Esteva Figueroa and Madhu Suri Prakash: Hope at the margins : beyond human rights and development, New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1997
  • Madhu Suri Prakash and Gustavo Esteva: Escaping education : living as learning within grassroots cultures, New York [etc.]: Peter Lang, 1998
  • Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash: Grassroots post-modernism : remaking the soil of cultures, London & New Jersey: Zed Books, 1998
  • Gustavo Esteva, and Catherine Marielle (eds.):Sin maíz no hay país: páginas de una exposición, México : Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Dirección General de Culturas Populares e Indígenas, 2003

  • Esteva, Gustavo: "Regenerating People's space" in: Saul H. Mendlovitz and R.B.J. Walker, Towards a Just World Peace. London: Butterworths, 1987; pp. 271–298.
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "Tepito: No Thanks, First World", in: In Context, num. 30, Fall/Winter 1991
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "Development" in The Development Dictionary. A Guide to Knowledge as Power, London & New Jersey: Zed Books, 1992, pp. 6–25
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "Re-embedding Food in Agriculture", in: Culture and Agriculture [Virginia, USA], 48, Winter 1994
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "From 'Global Thinking' to 'Local Thinking': Reasons to Go beyond Globalization towards Localization", with M.S.Prakash, in: Osterreichische Zeitschirift für Politikwissenschatft, 2, 1995
  • Esteva, Gustavo:"Hosting the Otherness of the Green Revolution" in: Frédérique Apffel-Marglin
    Frédérique Apffel-Marglin
    Frédérique Apffel-Marglin is a professor emerita of Anthropology. She had been teaching at Smith College in Massachusetts.-Life:She finished High School at the Lycée Regnault, Tangier, Morocco . She received her B.A. at Brandeis University and her Ph.D. in 1980 from the same university.She has...

     and Stephen A. Marglin
    Stephen A. Marglin
    Stephen Alan Marglin is a professor of economics and holds the Walter S. Barker Chair in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Marglin became a tenured professor at Harvard in 1968, one of the youngest in the history of the university. His tenure was largely based on research that...

    , eds.: Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, pp. 249–278
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "Beyond Development, What?", with M.S. Prakash, in: Development in Practice, Vol. 8, No.3, Aug 1998.
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "The Zapatistas and People's Power", in Capital & Class
    Capital & Class
    Capital & Class is the journal of the Conference of Socialist Economists .The journal aims to provide a critique of global capitalism in the Marxist tradition, reaching out into the labour, trade union, and other radical movements, such as anti-racism, environmentalism, and feminism.The journal has...

    , 68, Summer 1999.
  • Esteva, Gustavo: "The meaning and scope of the struggle for autonomy" in: Lat. Am. Perspect., 28:2, March 2001, pp. 120–148
  • Esteva, Gustavo(2004a): "Back from the future" -Notes for the presentation in “Schooling and Education: A Symposium with Friends of Ivan Illich” organized by TALC New Vision, Milwaukee, October 9, 2004. online
  • Esteva, Gustavo(2004b):“Rupturas:” Turning Points online
  • Esteva, Gustavo: The Oaxaca commune and Mexico's autonomous movement's, Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, México : Ed. ¡Basta!, 2008, 22 p.

Secondary literature

  • Terán, Gustavo: Conversations with Mexican nomadic storyteller, Gustavo Esteva : learning from lives on the margins, Dissertation, University of Vermont, 2002
  • Aram Ziai: "Gustavo Esteva (* 1936). Selbstbestimmte Gemeinwesen statt Entwicklung" in: eins. Entwicklungspolitik. Information Nord Süd, No. 23/24, 2005, 48-50

External links

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