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Journeyism 3

How Does Intellectual Labour Proceed? (Part 1)

In any post-secondary institution, conventional procedure for intellectual labour is presided over by a bureaucracy made up of various administrators and committees and carried out by individuals and groups made up of students, lecturers, professors, scientists and scholars. Collectively and cumulatively, these groups contribute to, and give shape to, the pool of data generated from a vast range of complex materials intrinsic to any subject-area we commonly refer to as “the 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.

In this segment, we begin to investigate what, in fact, occurs in the production of any type of intellectual labour. And we do so by working empirically and descriptively. In Journeyism 2 we led off by inviting you to focus on patterned expressions in the data drawn from the syllabus from your four years of study as an undergraduate. One way to check if you are on track would be to ask four questions:

  1. Do you notice that the data can neither be denied nor debated out of existence?
  2. Are you beginning to notice certain patterns of particular expressions running throughout the data?
  3. Do you notice that these expressions appear without any clear systematic structure controlling their usage or appearance?
  4. Do you notice that this line of inquiry we are introducing here someway involves a shift in your approach to the subject?

If only some of your answers are in the affirmative, indeed, you are on the right track. Still, we are just beginning, and we would caution you to guard against a tendency to contend that this unconventional, elementary line of inquiry is really, after all, beneath you.2We recall Descartes’ lament quoted in Lonergan, B. (1993) InsightCollected Works of Bernard Lonergan (CWL 3) University of Toronto Press, 27.

Our overall strategy is to invite you to pace along with us, while working for the time being from your undergraduate program. See if you have been able to observe, in parallel fashion, specific patterns of expressions that are woven throughout the program description. Certainly, we have to allow for the fact that lifelong habits die hard. And we cannot underestimate the impact that convention has had on how we go about getting the job done. The evidence to which we refer may not be obvious because we have come to regard the “content” as merely information to be consumed, a tiny portion of which is committed to memory.3We postpone until later discussion of the direct impact of this convention on the individual, on society and on the culture overall.

And so, to help you kick this destructive habit, and to replace it with a healthy one, we have highlighted certain expressions in bold type. Remember, the content of the subject is not our main focus. We are shifting our focus in another way, to develop the habit of noticing the use of specific expressions, and that they become increasingly conspicuous in the production of any type of intellectual labour. These words and phrases will increase both in profile and weight as we venture through our series.

Of course, we anticipate that you’ll be curious about why these specific patterns of expression were selected and we’ll draw that out further starting with our next installment in Journeyism 4. Furthermore, it is significant, and we hope you will notice, that the patterns of expressions we identify below not only seem to be independent of any particular context as one works through a discipline, but also can be observed to be operative in any discipline. Suffice it to say, at this stage, we point out that these expressions somehow have a role to play in controlling the pathways by which we generate and reflect on data.

The patterns of expression are taken from a randomly selected and abridged four-year course in Anthropology.4

After looking at our highlighted text, below, we invite you to go back to see if these expressions jump out at you in your 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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