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.

In Journeyism 3, our task is to sift specific clues from this data. We use the term “data” from the original Latin meaning of “(thing) given”.2

Please bear with us. We appreciate your openness to this approach because lifelong habits die hard. The approach we take, and its importance, is remote from conventions of reading and learning to which we have long been exposed.3We 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. As such, it would be easy to dismiss this work as “beneath” you.4“In the midst of that vast and profound stirring of human minds which we name the Renaissance, Descartes was convinced that too many people felt it beneath them to direct their efforts to apparently trifling problems … a continuous habit of inquiry that grasps clearly and distinctly all that is involved in the simple things that anyone can understand.” Lonergan, B. (1993) Insight. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (CWL 3) University of Toronto Press, 27.

Below, we have highlighted, in bold, data from an abridged subject area in a Sample Syllabus.5 Note: Any four-year undergraduate university program may be used for this exercise. The subject, Anthropology, is of no particular significance. 


Obtain a copy of your subject area in your, in or any available undergraduate syllabus (either hard copy or online). 

Working from your subject area, do you notice, 

  1. expressions similar to our highlighted data, 
  2. repetition of those expressions, 
  3. the data (expressions) can neither be denied nor debated out of existence, 
  4. an absence of cohesion or precision in how the data is presented? 

If the answer is ‘yes’ to some of these questions, you are on the right track. You are beginning to pace along with us, focused empirically, on data. 

Highlight the same or similar expressions in your subject area. 

Organize the data into a table as per the sample marked “Table 1” below. 


Sample Subject Area: Anthropology 

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 questionsmethods 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 theoryhow 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. 


 For ease of reference, we present them in Table 1 (below).

Table 1

Approaches Understanding ways of knowing and being
knowledge and beliefs approach knowledge
comparative analysis “thinking like an anthropologist” Rethinking
experience knowledge theoretical
analytical thinking core inquiry
critical orientations How Research
Approaches Questions Methods
Questions processes evaluate
theoretical developments interpret explain
theories thought historical
how processes of theorizing ideas
theories practice theorists
critical understand how theory
debates current debates critically informed questions
produced and circulated historically significant foundation
methods how historical
theory contemporary theoretical productions the kinds
examine a range of concepts How Reconnect
it may be possible to imagine Foundations Theory
theory with acts of change?
how theory


Some observations … 

What is important to note is the recurrence of data (expressions of topics or tasks or activities). For example, the expression, “Theory” appears in some form eight times, “Questions”, “How”, “approach(es)” “Methods”, appear multiple times, etc. 

The reader’s familiarity with their meaning seems to be assumed and implies that a coherent method with which to determine their significance has been overlooked. 

The repetition of these expressions is very significant. Does their reoccurrence pique your curiosity? Perhaps enough to extrapolate that the same expressions appear in the description of any academic discipline, in any syllabus. That raises a question that we will investigate in Journeyism 4. What, precisely, is their significance with respect to how intellectual labour proceeds?


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