Ceremonial Events - Commencement
Commencement 2006 Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Laws
Gustavo Esteva is a prominent Mexican writer and social activist whose life has been a multi-faceted, courageous, and pioneering intellectual journey. Esteva is the author of 30 books and scores of articles that have made significant contributions to scholarly fields from economics to cultural anthropology, philosophy to education. A strong voice for indigenous people, campesinos, and urban migrants, the core of Esteva’s thought is a challenge to the validity of social systems that subordinate traditional community values and institutions to the priorities of the global marketplace.
Intercultural communication, a discipline dedicated to the theory and practice of hospitable and rigorous cross-cultural encounters, is a major focus for Esteva and a field where he is regarded as an international authority. He is also among the intellectual founders of the field of post-development studies, an interdisciplinary study of alternatives to Western forms of development. The late philosopher and theologian Ivan Illich was influence, friend, and collaborator with Esteva. In one of his most important books, Escaping Education, Esteva expands upon Illich’s work by bringing a non-Western cultural perspective to the analysis of modern education as a dehumanizing endeavor.
Esteva, who now lives in a small Zapotec village outside the city of Oaxaca, began his career in a very different place. As a young man in the 1950s, he started work with international corporations such as IBM and Procter & Gamble, believing that capital progress was the best way to eliminate poverty and inequality in Mexico. In 1961, Esteva moved to the public sector, convinced that the government was a more effective way to promote social change. His career in the Mexican government included work under the 1970s presidency of Luis Echeverria, where Esteva rose to become director of a national rural development agency.
A pivotal moment in Esteva’s career and philosophy came with the earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985. Where the government’s response fell short, Esteva found that those most affected by the crisis, the poor and the marginalized, organized quickly and effectively. Inspired by the examples of communities exercising their collective will, Esteva began to orient his life toward working to support the self-determination of peasant and indigenous communities.
Gustavo Esteva’s connection to the University of Vermont began in the
mid-1990s when several faculty members in the College of Education and Social
Services read Escaping Education and began a correspondence with the
author. That relationship would ultimately grow into many cross-disciplinary
connections with UVM faculty and an innovative semester-long study-abroad program
in Mexico. Esteva’s assistance in Oaxaca has been vital to creating opportunities
for UVM faculty and students to learn firsthand how indigenous communities are
organized and experience the ongoing political and cultural revitalization within