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Who Do We Think We Are?
10 December 2023

Podcasts can throw light on who we think we are

Podcasts are one of the emerging ways in which sociologists (and other social scientists) have sought to engage wider audiences with sociological thinking. And yet, how often are we bringing these to our primary audiences, students? And what are the opportunities for and barriers to doing so?

I have been podcasting since 2017, and over this time I have realised the contributions that podcasts can make for engaging students in the collective project of the sociological imagination. They can add to the learning experience in ways that shift beyond the lecturing and reading that we so often rely on as the primary sources for developing students' knowledge and understanding. Not only do podcasts offer new content to students, by presenting knowledge in an alternative format such as a podcast, we  encourage and accommodate different modes of learning within the student community. Podcasts also hold the potential for making audible the process of knowledge production in ways that are often obscured in the written text.

These understandings of podcasts as an educational resource that can supplement other ways of learning underpins the approach in my podcast, Who do we think we are? is now in its third season. The podcast focuses on debunking taken-for-granted understandings of migration and citizenship. It demonstrates the value of social science thinking for challenging the politicisation of these issues in the UK and elsewhere.

In the final episode of Season 2, I invited regular listeners to reflect on what the podcast offered them. It was the responses of my own and other people's students that really excited me. From Olivia, an undergraduate student at Newcastle University, I heard how she had been using the podcast as a snapshot into the issues discussed, then going away to dig deeper into the issues that had sparked her intellectual curiosity. From Niamh, one of my students at Lancaster, I found that this had really helped her to grasp some of the concepts and theories we work with when we teach about migration, as well as offering hope in the context of bleak headlines about migration.

The latest season of the podcast is presented by me and Nando Sigona (University of Birmingham) as part of our research project Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit, and focuses on understanding how migration and citizenship are variously entangled with the political project of 'Global Britain'. Importantly, this embeds the learning I gained over the past two seasons and centres more explicitly students and their learning experience. This is reflected in the format of the episodes, the content we present, and the additional resources we prepare and provide for each episode.

Episodes follow a narrative format, including an introduction to a key concept, an expert who can offer insights into the real-world applicability of the concept; and conversation between Nando and me where we draw from our research to offer further thoughts on the significance of that concept for making sense of the post-Brexit migration regime. We offer different social science perspectives onto this current political project, from the imagined community through to migration diplomacy.

Alongside the main series, Ala Sirriyeh (Lancaster University) and I produce the series Beyond the headlines. This is an interview-based format designed to demonstrate how social science understandings can help make sense of current affairs relating to migration. We bring a guest in to talk through the headlines, drawing on their expertise. In this way, we showcase the dialogue that is at the heart of academic knowledge production but also how we take scholarship out of the University and into the world. We have new episodes lined up on migration and care activism, the ongoing fallout of the Windrush Deportation scandal, and Decolonising museums.

However, making the podcast work for students is about so much more than the audio content. I have been working to make these as accessible as possible by providing additional resources that can both help listeners to navigate the content and offer them guidance for how to use the podcast as a springboard into their own research on the topics. To these ends, each episode includes a short list of active listening questions which encourage the development of critical thinking on the basis of the content and a list of recommended resources where they can find out more about the issues discussed. To help with accessibility relating to audio content, each episode is also accompanied by a transcript.

We can’t all produce a podcast—and I would argue that we shouldn't all produce a podcast—but we can draw on those that are already out there, and build on these in our classroom activities.

Want to include podcasts in your teaching but don't know where to start?

There are so many podcasts out there that it can be quite overwhelming even to know where to start. But there are some great resources out there. Here's a few that I have found useful:

The Social Breakdown - this offers informed discussions of sociological concepts that would work well to help students build their confidence with these

Uncommon Sense - this podcast from The Sociological Review deconstructs taken-for-granted understandings of the social world, demonstrating how everyone could benefit from sociological knowledge.

Surviving Society - the back catalogue here is a rich resource that gives students the opportunity for students to hear sociologists in their own words on a variety of topics from across the sociology curriculum

This article was orginally published in the December 2023 edition of the British Sociological Association's Network Magazine

To cite:

Benson, M. (2023) Podcasts can throw light on who we think we are, BSA Network, December 2023.