Complete and paste this coversheet to the front of your assignment
Module Title: International Development & Education (EDPS0239)
(The name of the programme you are enrolled on)
Arts & Sciences (BASc)
Assignment Title: Individual Reflective Essay – “What is the value of podcasts in international development and education?”
Word Count: 2000
(Excluding Abstract, footnotes, bibliography/references list,
appendices, tables, figures and title)
Student Declaration: ☒ ←Tick this box to agree
By ticking this box, I affirm that the work in this assignment is my own and that any material derived or quoted from the published or unpublished work of other persons has been duly acknowledged. I confirm that I have read the UCL and Departmental guidance on plagiarism.
Podcasts are a powerful medium for disseminating knowledge to diverse audiences (Kinkaid et al., 2019), and have permeated pedagogy as both a learning and teaching resource (Forbes, 2011). They can potentially challenge the neoliberal hegemony that dominates education policy, which has facilitated the transition into a phase of ‘knowledge capitalism’, whereby ‘intellectual labour’ is the foundation of production in a knowledge economy, rather than physical labour (Patrick, 2013). Here, education can create economically self-interested individuals supporting ‘ivory tower syndrome’, where academics are the foci for knowledge production, as opposed to being ‘citizens’ who cooperatively challenge the wider social system alongside the marginalised groups that their research serves (Autonomous Geographies Collective, 2010). This is where podcasts can revolutionise the production and dissemination of knowledge through scholar-activism, facilitating radical social change.
Scholar-activists aim to align their “academic work and their political ideals to further social change and work directly with marginal groups” (Autonomous Geographies Collective, 2010). Through critical reflection on a collaborative podcast assignment which asked: “can global partnerships (SDG 17) be used to create curriculums to foster peacebuilding (SDG 16) in conflict-affected contexts?” (Faccion et al., 2021), this essay will experiment in pushing the boundaries of this media further. I ask: what is the value of podcasts in scholar-activism for peacebuilding? We highlight how democratic dialogue, polyvocality, and the removal of paywalls can allow research to resonate with new audiences. Also, podcasting as a methodology empowers researchers to engage with data in novel ways to create rich soundscapes and dynamic discussions between researchers and participants, appealing to both the audiences’ logic and emotion. Finally, podcasts can be a digital space for community building and non-hierarchical knowledge production. We critically analyse how these benefits are conducive to peacebuilding in conflict-affected contexts through mobilisation against corruption and marginalisation, whilst strengthening community building and amplifying marginalised voices. However, the risk of fuelling political tensions, censorship by corrupt governments, technological illiteracy, and conformity to traditional academic scholarship are analysed as limitations.
Firstly, a commonality in all conceptions of scholar-activism is the participatory approach to research, whether in deciding research priorities, methodological design, or in interviews. Podcasts are more collaborative and engender democratic dialogue and polyvocality as the diverse voices of both researchers and research participants are foregrounded (Kinkaid et al., 2019), rather than having discourses dominated by researchers, such as in journal articles (Stevenson and Holloway, 2016). This enables the contextualisation of quotes as the participants’ intonation, emotion and the visceral quality of their voice carries meaning, revealing their positionality. It supports a more complex and conflicted depiction of their lived experiences, which text alone can fail to portray (Kinkaid et al., 2019). In this way, podcasts can humanise the participants’ experiences, facilitating empathy by reminding audiences that these participants are not just disembodied data points (Kinkaid et al., 2019). This is conducive to peacebuilding, as by including the diverse voices of marginalised groups usually underrepresented in discourse, a feeling of inclusion and unity under a shared activist goal is cultivated. This can have significant impacts on social change, as demonstrated in the Sudanese Revolution in 2019, where students protesting corruption and marginalisation helped to depose President Omar al-Bashir (Gizouli, 2019). Whilst our podcast was particularly strong in its polyvocality, I would have increased the democratic dialogue by involving research participants of varied positionalities, as our interviewee and team were all affiliated at UCL. For instance, we could have provided more balanced discourse by speaking to students and staff who worked with our interviewee to develop a curriculum facilitating peacebuilding at Hargeisa University in Somaliland. This was unfeasible given the limited time and scope of our podcast assignment, but potentially hindered our analysis as we did not gain their local knowledge about the impacts on peacebuilding efforts in Hargeisa.
Furthermore, podcasts are valuable in increasing the accessibility of research to engage new and non-academic audiences through the removal of disciplinary jargon and paywalls (Kinkaid et al., 2019). Podcasts can instead be disseminated via social media or free streaming platforms, increasing access to new ideas and concepts to guide peacebuilding efforts. This is significant in conflict-affected contexts where traditional spaces of knowledge dissemination are limited. For example, gross tertiary education enrolment is 16% in Iraq (The World Bank, 2020), but 61.4% of Iraq’s population use social media (DataReportal, 2021). Thus, information otherwise exclusive to academia can reach new demographics. The virality of content on social media makes it a powerful tool to rapidly propagate knowledge, compared to the lengthy process of knowledge sharing through journal articles that are outpaced by turbulent social contexts (Latinx Intelligentsia, 2019). However, in conflict-affected contexts, corrupt governments could censor scholar-activist podcasts. For example, in Chad between 2018 and 2019, access to social media platforms was inhibited for 472 days (Haynes, 2019). This would stifle dissemination of knowledge and subsequent peacebuilding efforts or activism.
Nonetheless, podcasts provide value in innovating how researchers collaborate and engage with data together (Gallagher and Prior, 2013), which I found to be an unanticipated benefit. The additional stages of recording, replaying, editing, and the creation of soundscapes afforded reflexivity in our approach to analysis in comparison to traditional academic writing assignments. Firstly, we could relisten to interview segments and reflected and analysed together, candidly expressing the ideas that resonated with us. A benefit of our diverse research team was our different analytical frameworks and reference points, which enabled us to both challenge and support each other’s analysis, providing alternative analytical lens’ and a more balanced perspective. Like the voice of research participants, the voice of researchers like us also carry meaning through the intonation, tempo and expression, embodying implicit meaning through our visceral reactions. The varying pace of the conversation itself, as we wavered between silent pondering and bursts of discussion, was also revealing of the collaborative process of building knowledge. However, these sessions were unfortunately not recorded as we had not anticipated that these meetings would have been so rich in analysis. This ultimately removed those unrefined moments of impassioned discussion which would likely resonate with audiences and move them into social action to stimulate social change – a key goal of scholar-activism. Instead, we made the creative decision to produce a script, deciding the appropriate tone, and recorded our voices in isolation to ensure audio quality. This was because we felt the audio should conform to an academic standard, even though in hindsight there was value in those initial unbridled reactions and analysis. In future, I would therefore balance the refined analysis necessary in academic work, which also appeals to an audience’s logic or reason (logos), with the initial emotional discussions (relating to pathos) (Humphrey, 2021). Arguably, both are necessary to create compelling podcasts that resonate with audiences on different levels.
As well as the interview analysis, creating the soundscape to support the narrative meant questioning the emotional responses we wanted to invoke and how we could support the meaning the interviewee was conveying. This required us to engage with the audio introspectively beyond just what was being said. In the future, I would be aware of music licenses from the start, as I had to substitute our initial choices requiring paid commercial licences to audio under Creative Commons. These substitutes did not necessarily emulate the desired sentiment or tone of the interviewee, but through layering sound effects the narrative was nonetheless engaging. Our limited access to recording equipment and our editing inexperience were perhaps greater challenges to developing a soundscape to support the narrative, which we overcame by using our phones to record and GarageBand editing tutorials online. It highlighted the limitations of technological literacy and accessibility in using this medium for scholar-activism, as in conflict-affected contexts, budgets are likely to be especially limited. There are also ethical considerations in music selection, as from a behavioural psychology perspective, atmospheric cues can exert a strong influence people’s physiological reactions and interpretation of what is said by participants (Brown and Volgsten, 2006). We tried to be conscious when creating soundscapes so that the meaning was not misconstrued, but in the future and given more time, I would consult participants to ensure the soundscapes reflected their sentiment. This further supports the participatory goal of scholar-activism.
Moreover, podcasts as a medium for scholar-activism in conflict-affected contexts are valuable in resisting efforts by external research funding bodies to make research politically impartial, with some even criminalising politicised work (Polonyi, 2021). This has led to the depoliticization of knowledge in countries like Palestine, where academic work is therefore predominantly by authors of the Global North and detached from the contextual reality (Dyer and Georgis, 2017). This is condemned as the ‘occupation of knowledge’ of Palestinian education by western institutionalisation, which replaces grassroots knowledge with top-down meaning making in accordance with standardised Western neoliberal culture (Fasheh, 1990). Resisting this, Polonyi details how social theatre is used as a form of scholar-activism (Polonyi, 2021), resonating the Palestinian concept of mujawaraah (مجاورة), which is a non-hierarchical space of knowledge production in a community beyond academic structures (Fasheh, 1990). Thus, podcasts are another media that could act as a digital space beyond the barriers of universities, where the politicisation and contextualisation of participant experiences can be made without rejection of political research by academic journals or funding bodies. Their contextualised accounts are more likely to resonate with audiences with shared lived experience, fostering community building and inspiring activism for social change amongst the fragmentation of conflict, ultimately enabling greater peacebuilding.
However, some academics may be disincentivised to use podcasts as a tool for scholar-activism as there is pressure to achieve tenure and conduct research conforming to disciplinary conceptions of scholarship, discouraging more experimental forms of knowledge production and dissemination (Kinkaid et al., 2019). However, this can be overcome by experimenting with the peer-reviewing, which is being done at the Simon Fraser University in Canada (Kinkaid et al., 2019). This can ensure that podcasting as a methodology and form of knowledge production can meet academic standards and rigour, whilst simultaneously challenging engrained norms and conventions.
Nevertheless, whilst podcasts engage with diverse political views, this can inadvertently exacerbate political tensions and reinvigorate conflict (den Boer and van der Borgh, 2011). This is because the characteristics affording value to podcasts, like virality and democratic content, can become problematic when misinformation or harmful ideas are spread unchecked, which is less likely in traditionally rigorous forms of knowledge dissemination like journal articles. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a deluge of misinformation, conspiracies and alt-right ideology shared by political figures like Stephen Bannon, Trump’s Former White House Chief Strategist, in his podcast ‘Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic’ (Bannon, 2020). The podcast is accredited with partially inciting the violent storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters, obstructing democratic proceedings (Blake, 2021). This emphasises that “the digital has become part of the material, sensory and social worlds we inhabit” (Pink et al., 2016, p. 7). Thus, podcasts could potentially undermine peacebuilding efforts in conflict-contexts, where vulnerability to radicalisation is heightened and universities have historically become sites of ideological conflict and recruitment by violent groups (Latif, 2006). For instance, after the Iraqi state broke down in 2003, there was a rise in student groups allied with new political factions, who reportedly threatened faculty members (Milton and Barakat, 2016) and deepened instability. Thus, ethical considerations must be made by scholar-activists about whether politicising research and leveraging the political freedoms of podcasts will be conducive to peacebuilding, or if it will exacerbate tensions.
In conclusion, podcasts have immense potential value in scholar-activism due to the participatory nature, democratic dialogue, and polyvocality, which resonates with diverse audiences. It can therefore motivate activism conducive to peacebuilding in conflict-affected contexts. However, further research considering the ethics and consequences of politicising scholar-activist work through podcasts is necessary before widespread implementation in fragile contexts. Furthermore, challenging the engrained standards of scholarship, like using peer-reviewed podcasts, as well as obtaining funding to bridge the technology divide in conflict-affected countries, are both necessary to propel this media to the forefront of academia and drive social change in peacebuilding efforts, and beyond.
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