How Does Intellectual Labour Proceed? (Part 1)

Human Knowing

In any post-secondary institution, conventional procedure for intellectual labour is overseen by a bureaucracy of administrators and committees and carried out by groups of students, lecturers, professors, scientists and scholars. Collectively and cumulatively, these groups contribute to the pool of data generated from a vast range of complex materials that make up each “academic discipline.”1It will be our task in Journeyism 23 to ask: What is an academic discipline? At that stage we will have sufficient context to support a redefinition of this expression.

Our exercises will sift out clues in this data. We use the term “data” from the original Latin meaning of “(thing) given”.2 In this segment, we highlight repeated data in the sample syllabus below and ask you to compare it to data we hope you noticed in your undergraduate syllabus.

The following questions will help to see if you are on track. Did you notice,

  1. data (the expressions given) can neither be denied nor debated out of existence?
  2. repetition of expressions?
  3. lack of precision in how repeated expressions are used?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to some of your answers, then you are on the right track. You are set to pace along with us with a fresh focus on data. We appreciate your effort to make this shift because lifelong habits die hard. It would be easy to dismiss this shift in approach as being “beneath” you.3We recall Descartes’ lament quoted in Lonergan, B. (1993) InsightCollected Works of Bernard Lonergan (CWL 3) University of Toronto Press, 27. The approach we take, and data we seek, is not obvious to conventions of reading and learning in which the assumed aim is to be “informed” or to “get the gist” as quickly as possible.4We postpone, for the moment, the direct impact of convention on reading and learning in the academic performance in the individual as well as academic culture overall.


We highlight those repeated expressions in bold type. They are taken from a randomly selected and abridged four-year course in Anthropology.5

We ask you to extract expressions from your undergraduate syllabus similar to expressions in our sample syllabus and organize them, in order of appearance, into a table marked “Table 1”.

Does this similarity pique your curiosity? Perhaps enough to extrapolate that they are present in any syllabus, in any academic discipline? That possibility raises a further question we will consider in the next installment. What, precisely, is their function in how intellectual labour proceeds?


Sample Syllabus

Year One

In this course you will use anthropological approaches to increase your understanding of global issues in diverse locales. This course challenges you to engage with other ways of knowing and being, and to rethink your taken-for-granted knowledge and beliefs through the comparative analysis of the human condition. This course will take a problem-based approach to a range of topics such as: the effects of race and racism, sources of religious conflict, alternate genders and sexualities, First Nations and health, international development and issues of social inequality. Students are encouraged to bring their own knowledge and experience as the first step in “thinking like an anthropologist” (i.e. rethinking the taken-for-granted). The emphasis in this course is developing skills (analytical thinking, writing).

Year Two

Each of the courses offered at the 2000-level enhances students’ knowledge of the variety and breadth of theoretical and critical orientations that are at the very core of anthropological inquiry…Global Capitalism, Culture & Conflict,Visualizing Ourselves, Visualizing Others: Media Representation & Culture, Sex, Gender & the Body: Cross-Cultural Approaches to the Body, Gender, Sexuality and Kinship, Anthropology & Infectious Diseases: An Exploration of the Social Networks of Microbes

Year Three

In the third year, students learn about how anthropologists design and conduct research in the context of contemporary issues and questions. Fieldwork questions, methods and practices are the principal focus of the core course.

Year Four

In their fourth year, honours students explore the breadth and depth of anthropological theory, knowledge and practice.…The purpose of this course is to explore a range of theoretical developments in socio-cultural anthropological as they have developed over the years. As a discipline focused on society and culture, anthropology aims to make sense of wide ranging social processes and practices to evaluate shifting relations between individuals and society. Anthropological theories aim to interpret social action and explain social transformations.

In this course, we examine how different schools of thought in anthropology, at different historical and political junctures, have forwarded different theories of social and cultural life. The course focuses on two broad processes of theorizing: as the cultural production of ideas and as critical anthropological practice. Our aim is to examine the contributions of these theorists and the ensuing debates.This course is organized such that by the end of the year you will understand the ‘high points’ of different theoretical schools and see how theory in anthropology is produced and circulated. In addition to this, we will also examine the current debates that have critically informed questions of ethnographic methods, writing, and representation. In the fall semester we examine historically significant texts that have contributed to the foundation of anthropological theory: how modern anthropologies of the twentieth century were created, and out of what historical, social, political and cultural conditions, tensions, and ambiguities they were fashioned. In the winter semester we examine a range of concepts central to contemporary anthropology, such as contemporary theoretical productions and the kinds of anthropologies it may be possible to imagine, that can deal with the global conditions for public life in the world today. How can thinking anthropologically reconnect social and cultural theory with acts of change? How is this possible today within the contexts of globalization, new forms of public culture and new ways of conceptualizing life itself?

The expected learning outcomes of this course are three-fold: 1) to provide students with an introduction to the different foundations of twentieth century social and cultural theory; 2) to introduce students to how theory is informed by the social and cultural worlds in which they live; and 3) to consider the politics and poetics of theory production as discursive and materialist practices.

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