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Who Do We Think We Are?

S2 E10 In dialogue

24 Mar 2023

Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to Who do we think we are? A podcast exploring some of the lesser known stories of British citizenship. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship, migration and belonging, and your host. Join me over the course of the series, as I debunk some of the taken for granted understandings of citizenship, and examine how this changes our understanding that some of the most pressing issues of our times.  Welcome to the final episode of season two of Who Do We Think We Are? We're going to be doing something a little bit different today. We wanted to reflect on our ambitions for the podcast as a way of engaging students, scholars, and those interested in migration, citizenship and social justice with contemporary social science knowledge. And to help me with this, I've invited some guests along to tell me what the podcast has done for them, their tips for listening and the key messages from the series that have stuck with them. I'll introduce them to you as we go along. When we first came up with the idea for this episode, George and I put out a call for people who'd taken part in the podcast to come back and tell us a little bit more about their experiences. And I was really delighted when Bolaji Balogun, who is a lever human trust early career fellow at the University of Sheffield, and who appeared alongside Marius Turda, on the episode European identities, from the aliens act 1905, to Brexit, agreed to drop in to share his reflections about appearing on the podcast and listening to it. I started by asking him what excited him about being invited to be on the podcast.

Bolaji Balogun [BB]: So I think what is really exciting about being on Who do we think we are? is the opportunity to unpick important background discussions that don't often really make it into the books or onto paper publications. And I think these conversations, they are really, really important because they really set the conversation going in a different way. And also I've mean in a kind of very relaxed, not tense, not being pushed environment to really talk about things in a very, very genuine, you know, way. I think it's really exciting for me, you know, rather than thinking about oh, my god, how am I going to put this in the paper? How am I going to put this in the book? but being able to have a really, you know, not even one way conversation, but different aspects of the conversation, to get different insights and ideas into war one is already talked about, I think it's really refreshing.

MB: And I'm glad that's what comes across because what excites me about the podcast is being able to have conversations with some of my favourite scholars working in the areas of our shared interests. And I've really, I've really found that one of the most rewarding parts of the podcast if I'm very honest, I know that you're also an avid listener of the podcast. And I just wondered if I could ask you which episodes you'd recommend to others and why.

BB: So I will recommend the following episode. So I will start with Gurminder Bhambra on Why we need to look at history to understand British citizenship today. Also, Manuela Boatcă What does British citizenship have to do with global social inequalities? And also the most recent interview with AleKs Lewicki on East West inequalities and the remaking of unequal Europeans. I think this three episodes paired with the discussion we had recently with Marius on the Aliens Act 1905 and eugenics, I think together they provided an important insight into the racialised aspects of citizenship, not only in the UK, but also in Europe, and broadly. So these four episodes, you know, they are well integrated together. Also, what I found really, really welcoming and which I will recommend is the brilliant ways in which you have a discussion with Aleks on the history of Silesia, the way you made the broader connections and disconnection of that history so amazingly clear, really call for a new engagement with that history. And I mean, of course, I like the way you often talk to George. "George, what did you find?" And George will go on with a catalogue of histories that really have to send many of these things in a very, very interesting direction. And I do think, historically, these discussions are very relevant rather than just strictly looking at them from just a strictly academic or intellectual perspective

MB: I really liked the way that you've chosen a package of episodes and explained how they fit together. And actually, yes, it really struck me that those four do really fit together in very particular ways, partly because they're traversing quite similar terrain, theoretically and conceptually, but also because they show that kind of progression from the kinds of discussions around migration and citizenship related to colonialism, and how that then progresses through to the present day, how we see that still at play there. But I'm also really delighted that you highlighted the star of the show. George has been so fantastic all the way through this. And he really brings a different perspective into the show through that archival work that he does. And I suppose just to go back to your experiences of being on the show, what tips would you have for anybody I approached in the future to be on the show?

BB: Well, that's another interesting one. I remember when I was preparing for my show, there was something I did. So this is, this will be my first tip for anyone know, you're going to be inviting, who would be willing, which I really encourage very much to, to be a guest on the show. First I would encourage them to have a quick listening to previous episodes, and especially those that speak directly to what you're going to be talking about, and see the ways in which your body of work will contribute to what is already being done on the programme. Second, be prepared to have open and relaxed conversation, because it's very, very important for me to prepare, have a very relaxed conversation, because this is where, for me the creativity, the originality will come through rather than being nervous about many things rather that being strictly intellectual, or some sort of an abstract, you know, discussion. When you're relaxed when you have these conversations, they make it easy, you know, for listeners to grasp, you know, in terms of not only listener as audience, but also as teaching resources. We need to bear in mind that this episodes and this programme in particular, it's not only for just academics, it's also for students who are really struggling in some cases, or trying to grab the contemporary understand or insights into an understanding of race and migration and other issues that has been discussed on the show. And I do really, genuinely think that a very good way for students really start looking at complicated things that they will eventually go on to read in a book or, or in a paper, would be to listen to some of the episodes on this programme, you know, I will listen to the ways in which know the authors actually set out their arguments, what really what are the background information that make, you know, those papers come to life eventually. And I think having all this you know, set out in a very simple conversation like this will make things easier for many of the student later on when they start looking at these discussions broadly.

MB: I think that Bolaji made some really good points there about how podcasts might be used with students. And later in the episode we're going to be hearing from my colleague, Michael J. Richardson, who's based in the Department of Geography at Newcastle University, and one of his students about the way in which they have been trialling the use of podcasts on an undergraduate module. Now, this point about the value of podcasts for teaching aligns with something that I've thought about for a long time. And that's how the episodes that we produce for Who do we think we are? and Beyond the Headlines might be used as an entry point into some quite complicated theoretical and conceptual concerns around migration and citizenship in Britain today. But I also hope that people could take each of these episodes on multiple levels. So I hope that they offer value to scholars working on these topics and what they take away might be a bit different to what people who are new to the topics might get out of that. But that's always been part of my ambition. Now it's time to hear from another guest. And you'll probably already have a sense that the podcast is a collective project. It's definitely not me on my own. There are several people who were work behind the scenes to get each episode and the related resources out into the world. And last summer, we were lucky enough to have a student intern working with us. This was Niamh Welby. Niamh is now in the third year of her sociology degree at Lancaster University. And I've invited her to come on to the podcast to tell us a little bit more about her experiences of working with us. I started by asking her if there were any particular surprises when she first started to work with us.

Niamh Welby [NW]: One of the biggest surprises for me is just how much work is going on behind the scenes in terms of resistance, I guess against the assumptions associated with migration, and attempts to create a sort of an us and them narrative. You see the news especially at the moment and get a sense of fatalism that things are only getting worse, because the fight back against narratives is so rarely made public. But then with the podcast, you get the sense of a huge number of people who are fighting back and how these are across disciplines, working together. I think I was surprised by how much hope working on the podcast offered and the sense of agency that things can change and how I can make that happen. I was also quite surprised by the approachability of it all. I imagined, I'd really struggle to keep my head above the water with some of the concepts and theories associated with the area. But I didn't feel like that at all, the way my tasks were set up made it really easy to grasp and meant that if I did get a little confused, it was very easy to reach out and clarify things.

MB: Oh, that's so great. It's so nice to hear that the podcast gave you hope. Because as you say this can be quite a tricky and quite devastating topic in many, many ways. And I guess that leads me on to my next question, which is, are there any big takeaway messages that have stuck with you?

NW: I think there's definitely been some messages that I could have taken away. I think one of them is how significant the history of migration policy can be. Which I think is something that you're really good at explaining and diving into on Who do we think we are? sort of investigating how these policies were slowly built up and the reasons that they can be so messy and interconnected. I think as well, it shows just how significant words can be and how they can reproduce and create so many inequalities, and how they use so meaningfully to express a certain message about the UK and its borders, especially within media coverage.

MB: And my final question, if I've asked all of my guests this is, which episode would you recommend or episodes, and why?

NW: There's so many to recommend. I'd probably say for Beyond the Headlines the episode with Colin Yeo because it's so interesting see a different approach to the topic outside of sociology, and to see how intertwined the hostile environment is with the legal system, and why it's built that way. And then as well, the episode with Alison Phipps and Tawona Sitholé, because again, it offered that sense of agency that something can be done, and shed light on the resistance that's already going on. I really enjoyed the poems as well and how they connected with everything else. For Who do we think we are? my mind goes to the episode of Who was a migrant? because it was so interesting to investigate everything that the use of the word reproduces and how damaging these social constructions have become. I think as well, the episode on What can the UK citizenship test tell us about the shape of Britishness today? was really eye opening. Because as a British citizen by birth, I've never really come into contact or considered what is involved in the process of gaining British citizenship. So it's really insightful to see that side of things, but also to see why these barriers exist and what the intentions are behind them.

MB: Niamh was responsible for some of the behind the scenes on beyond the headlines, that she also produced the active listening questions for season one of Who do we think we are? If you didn't know about these, or if you hadn't checked them out yet you can find them on our website. That's We wanted these to offer a route map for anyone listening to the episodes for educational purposes, kind of a way of structuring their listening. Now, unfortunately, we've fallen a bit behind with the active listening questions for season two, that we'll be refreshing these in the next month or so. And we launching them using the campaign that Niamh designed to promote the podcast to students. My final guests for this episode are Michael J. Richardson, who is a senior lecturer in human geography at Newcastle University, and Olivia Allerton, who is a first year undergraduate students studying Human Geography at Newcastle. They volunteered to come onto Who do we think we are? to talk about using the podcast in the classroom and as an educational resource. My opening question into Michael was to ask him to explain how he and his colleagues have been using the podcast in the classroom.

Michael J Richardson  [MJR]: Sure. And I'm delighted to talk about the podcast because as you say, we've been using it here at Newcastle for a number of years now. So this is in relation to a module called GEO1015, which is the human geographies of the UK module. This is a large first year undergraduate module, which recruits over 200 students every year. And we featured the podcast by way of a virtual field trip as part of the political geography section of this module. Now, to slightly backtrack, my first connection to the podcast was with your work Michaela in relation to the Brexit Brits Abroad work. And so in 2020 to 2021, I got students to engage with that podcast. And as your work developed, and of course, the podcast became in its current incarnation as Who do we think we are? That was a really excellent opportunity for me to build in some of my research around Hong Kong. And so there was a particular episode of the Who do we think we are? podcast in season one, where you were talking about Hong Kong, and the BN(O) visa status. So really, that was used as a stimulus to link in some of my teaching with some of my own research, and then making those broader connections towards questions of citizenship, and centering that within political geography. And here we are now in its sort of third year of involvement in the module and we have students exploring the current season two of the podcast. And I think really what's exciting about the podcast, in terms of its role within teaching, is that it offers students the opportunities to understand that these academic ideas that we talk about within the classroom, actually do have a wider resonance, and that they have this real world relevance and carry an interest of a public audience. Actually.

MB: I'm absolutely delighted that that the podcast is being used in that way, but also the kind of the pedagogical rationale behind it and what you were hoping students would get from doing that. Olivia, I just wondered if, if you had some reflections on Michael's decision to bring podcasts into the classroom? What what did you think about this?

Olivia Allerton [OA]: I think at first I sort of was a bit, I was a bit surprised really to think that podcasts can sort of crossover into sort of academia if I'm being honest. I sort of use podcasts more as like a leisure thing, like I do enjoy listening to them. But I had never really considered using them to supplement like, alongside my studies. So I was I was positively surprised. I personally thought it was a really interesting choice of sort of a way of learning. Because I don't know, it's just different to what we do in all of our other modules. Like it's not reading. It's very enjoyable reading, but it is nice to diversify. And yet now, we also got sort of taught how to be an active listener and how to how to use a podcast essentially, which I thought was really helpful, because it, it sort of elevates it just from being something you listen to while you're doing something to sort of really intentionally sitting down focusing on it, I thought it was a really cool way of sort of diversifying what we're learning about.

MB: I think that's a really important point, though, about when we include new modes of learning in our syllabuses, that we provide guidance on how they should be used. And so Olivia, in terms of the value that you get from, from listening to a podcast, or actively listening to a podcast, what do you think that this adds to your learning experience.

OA: I think it adds almost an element of sort of creativity sort of learning in a different way. Like, that's what university is for, it's for sort of trying different things and being able to learn in new ways. And I think for me, it sort of made me think that's where I want to start learning about new things from like a podcast is a really good place to start and think like, this is an introduction to the topic and with your podcasts it definitely enters in and other nuances. And it's just I find it extremely valuable I think because it's just all there in one and then you can think right I wish that but it was really interesting. I mean a research that further. I've really enjoyed how we learned about sort of Hong Kong in the lecture, and then to do the podcast. It was just like the next natural step, like elaborating on some of the points So I think the idea that it should be able to do that for some of my other modules and other topics, I think that's really valuable for me.

MB: And what would you say to other students about using podcasts in their studies Olivia?

OA: I'd say just go for it. To think creatively and think, yes, there, there must be some out there for what you're interested in. And I don't know if you want to start off thinking, right, what's out there currently, where can I go from here? What more can I read to build on that? A podcast is just the perfect place. Even even if you're listening to it while going on a walk or something, it's like, you can just get almost a snapshot of it. And I think students might think, Oh, I have to sit down and read a book. But equally, that is very fun but if you want more of like a bite size, half an hour out of your day, I think they're extremely valuable. And I think for me, this has definitely opened my eyes, that they are out there and that it is compatible with university really,

MB: It would be really helpful if there was like a good list of them somewhere. That's always what I'm thinking about that

OA: A directory. Yeah.

MB: Michael just wondered, for you. I mean, I know that you were you were following the Brexit Brits abroad podcast, and now you're following the Who do we think we are podcast? What are the big takeaway messages that have stuck with you as a geographer?

MJR: I think for me the stories, essentially, on citizenship, and the connections to questions of protest and privilege, which are ideas that I've written about elsewhere. And I think what's amazing about the ways in which the podcast brings in conversation, not just with academics, but with people across lots of different sectors, professionals, and the ways in which those same ideas, run through those different professional backgrounds. And I think the podcast does that in a really approachable way. That, as I say, to reflect on the teaching aspect, that opens up that conversation to students to understand that these ideas aren't just academic gymnastics. You know, we're not just having these conversations, because it's fun or interesting or important to have them but actually, that there is that connection to different professional contexts. So something like migration, you know, is a real world concept that, yes, it's a social construction, but is applicable to people's everyday lives and experiences. And I think that's what your podcast does very well. And it is interesting, I mean, thinking about that sort of method of podcasting and, and that active listening process, to literally take the stories out of the university buildings on a walk home or a walk to a lecture theatre, I find something really interesting about that as a geographer, you know, I'm walking through streets and looking at people I'm, I'm quite passively encountering a whole diverse range of people. And yet, I'm getting this kind of academic insight in my head, almost like there's a running commentary on what I'm doing in the moment. So I think there's something really interesting about that, coupling, the sort of podcasting experience and incorporating that into this everyday life. I think that's a really quite transformative moment, actually. Because it takes those ideas and it places them in particular contexts.

MB: I think that's a really fascinating reflection, and probably one I should have expected from a geographer. When you were talking, I was thinking about, you know, how actually listening to some podcast. So before before we came on air, I was talking to you about listening to the King of Kowloon podcast that's hosted by Louisa Lim, which is about Hong Kong. And I remember specific places that I was when I heard particular stories that were being told in that podcast. I'm  walking around London, and I you know, but I'm transported to Kowloon. And, you know, I can remember being at the zebra crossing, almost as that story plays out. So there's definitely something in that. What about for you, Olivia? What kind of big takeaway messages have stuck with you?

OA: I think, for me, my biggest takeaway was just that this learning experience, sort of transcends University, it's, it's I just found it really interesting that that was like the entryway into being signposted to the podcast and from there, I can sort of use it to further my understanding. So I think my biggest takeaway was probably, oh, my goodness, podcasts can be used academically, I think I hadn't even considered that option. So I think for me, I just saw that the possibilities are just they seem endless, like, all the different areas I can explore. And I think in terms of the content, and I think this podcast has definitely helped sort of open up what I previously thought I understood about citizenship and working through the different sort of episodes with the different places and their own experiences with citizenship. I think it's been really interesting to challenge the things that I thought I knew. Like, especially like the one about the Windrush Deportation Scandal, I thought I had no idea it was it was just really interesting to hear it from more of a citizenship perspective, rather than I think we hear quite a lot of the way the newspapers report it to us.

MB: I think that's a really well, it's a really pertinent reflection, Olivia. And one of the things that was very, very keen to do with the podcast all the way through was to really challenge the kind of taken for granted understandings of citizenship and of migration that we have and bring some social science work to bear on making that visible. What about for you, Michael? What episodes would you recommend and why?

MJR: From this current series, there was an episode, season two, episode three, where you tackle those questions of protests and resistance and their role in making citizens and citizenship. I think on that podcast, George actually reflects on from the archives, and he talks about citizenship, and I'm quoting here, "citizenship can be embodied in action and in the doing of it". And I think, really, this is a message I really hope the students take away from, from their engagement in the podcast, you know, and that links to Engin Isin's ideas around citizenship as the right to claim rights. And I think that's a sort of a really key message for them to understand. And the other episode from this series that I particularly enjoyed was the broader question of Who is a migrant? which I think was your episode eight, with Bridget Anderson. And I mean, for me, there's sort of there was one section of that discussion where Bridget was explaining how race and class slip into and indeed are hidden by immigration policies deliberately so when, for example, nationality is used to legitimise racial classifications of groups of people. And equally skill is used as a proxy for class based discrimination. So, you know, those are the types of kind of critical approaches to citizenship that I would like my students to be taking away. And I think those two episodes deliver on that key outcome very well.

MB: Oh, that's really very good to hear. Olivia, I realised I didn't ask you if there was a particular episode that you might recommend,

OA: I think because we got sort of suggested particularly signposted towards the one on Hong Kong and the BN(O) visas. And I think for me, I would probably recommend I know that is in your sort of first season, but I would definitely signpost people to that, because I think at the time, I was sort of aware of what was going on in Hong Kong. But I found that episode really helpful, just to sort of properly explain how the actual mechanics of the visas worked. And the limitations, especially as the legacy of that, I guess, is starting to sort of filter through and how the BN(O) visas are just sort of for the limited in that they're out there. And I just find it really interesting. It's not fixed in the past, it's still very much relevant. So I would definitely recommend that one.

MB: That is, of course, one of my favourite episodes. But that's because it's so close to my own research. And now, my final question, and I'll open this up to both of you. And it's a bit of a cheeky question, really, which is, how's this inspired you to think about making your own podcast?

MJR: I'll certainly dive in there. Because actually, just before I came on to record this episode with you are chatting to a colleague of mine here in Newcastle. And these are conversations that we've had. You know, we really see the value in the work that you're doing with his podcast, and obviously are benefiting from it and building into our teaching, which is great. And we've reflected on the ways in which we could perhaps open up a conversation on behalf of the Newcastle social geographies collective. And we actually recently published an edited collection, bringing together all of our work. A book called "Social geographies, an introduction". And I think that would be ideally suited actually for podcast episodes, because the writing style in that collective is already collaborative, conversational, and we're using the ways in which those key themes and building blocks to our academic work cuts through lots of different geographical contexts and lots of different empirical projects. And so I think actually, I would like to think that there would be an audience for work like that. So yes, thank you for inspiring us and watch this space.

MB: I will look forward to that. What about you, Olivia?

OA: I think it's definitely prompted me to sort of have these conversations and I guess a podcast is like formalising, isn't it? It's immortalising it so other people can sort of hear these thoughts I'm having. But I think it's definitely inspired me at least, just to think deeper and wider. And I think it's definitely made me want to listen to even more podcasts.

MB: I really appreciated the way Michael and Olivia reflected on the significance and value of hearing conversations. And it's a theme that George and I discuss also in our bonus episode for this season, where we consider the value of making audible the conversations at the heart of academic scholarship. Indeed, for me, podcasting uniquely offers the possibility of centering dialogue. And that's the dialogue that's really at the heart of academic work in ways that can be limited by written text, which of course is the predominant way that students are introduced to academic ideas. Now, that's a wrap for season two. We are at the moment in the process of getting season three together, but it's going to take us a couple of months to get that out to you. In the meantime, we're going to be using our channel to bring you some episode swaps from some of our favourite podcasts. And before I go, just a final shout out to our bonus episode. And as usual, you can find a list of resources in our episode notes. Bye for now.  

Thanks for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are? a podcast series produced and presented by me Michaela Benson. Special thanks to Emma Houlton at Brilliant Audio for her production and post production support and to George Kalivis for the cover art, social media assets and archival research. You can check out our show notes for further resources, transcripts and links to all our socials. If you like what you've heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. And you can also find us at That's all for now. But we'll be back with another episode very soon.

End of Transcript

For the final episode of Season 2, we bring you a set of conversations about what Who do we think we are? achieves through dialogues with archival and social science research around migration and citizenship in the UK and beyond.

We’re joined by former guest, Bolaji Balogun (University of Sheffield) who reflects on what excited him about taking part the podcast and offers tips for future guests. Niamh Welby, our former student intern, describes on how working on the podcast opened her eyes to the power and presence of resistance to present-day immigration controls and why words matter when we talk about migration. Michael J Richardson (University of Newcastle) explains why and how he has been using the podcast in the classroom with his first year undergraduate students. We’re also joined by his student Olivia Allerton who tells us what listening to the podcast has done for her knowledge and understanding and calls for the broader inclusion of podcasts on undergraduate reading lists.  Listen for recommendations, reflections on podcasts as a form of public engagement with social science and value in the classroom.

In this episode we cover …  

  1. Dialogue and  academic knowledge production
  2. Podcasting and the public engagement with social science
  3. Podcasts in the classroom 

To find out more about …  

Louisa Lim’s podcast ‘The King of Kowloon’ 

Social Geographies, an introduction, by Michael J Richardson and his colleagues at the University of Newcastle 

Scholarly Podcasting, we recommend Ian Cook’s new book  

Podcasts in the classroom, read Michaela’s reflections for The Sociological Review blog 

And don’t forget to listen to our back catalogue 

Call to action 

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