image of the letter O and the letter I with a bar between them

Outside/In

A show about the natural world and how we use it. This podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio is a beautifully produced and researched show. Each episode opens up pressing political and environmental questions, debates and issues through compelling, immersive storytelling. 

Especially teachable episodes

  Powerline: a four-part series  This is a stunning series that explores the history and current dynamics of Hydro Quebec.  It would be teachable as a series, but episode 1 and episode 2 would also each work as stand-alone episodes.  Episode 1, Masters in our Own Home, brings to life the fact that policy decisions (in this case, Massachusetts’ decision about cleaner energy) are inseparable from political contexts (like the complex context of Quebec, in which French critique of Anglo imperialism is in tension with indigenous critique of settler colonialism).  This episode would teach well in the context of lessons about the material specificity of infrastructure, about the complexities of energy and the contingencies of national borders.

Episode 2, The Project of the Century, is an introduction to the violence and highly specific nature of settler colonialism in what’s now known as Quebec.  This episode would work beautifully in the context of lessons about indigenous rights, the nature of sovereignty,  the violence of colonial expansion and critical indigenous work on recognition, reparations and the limits of multicultural paradigms.

the words Scene on Radio

Scene on Radio

A podcast that asks, How’s it going out there? And leaves the studio to find out, capturing the sounds of life happening and telling stories that explore human experience and American society.  From the Centre for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Scene on Radio is an excellent pedagogical resource.  Episodes explore timely issues in complex ways, and they exemplify how compelling audio is, as a medium for opening up questions through narration, sound design and storytelling. 

Especially teachable episodes

  Seeing White is a fourteen-part documentary series that lends itself directly to the classroom.  Each episode has a full transcript, and there’s a study guide and bibliography to help expand the educational value of the series.  John Biemen, host and producer, frames the series with frank skepticism towards his own white perspective and experience; each episode concludes with sharp and incisive commentary by Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, staging for the listener how one might engage with this series with skepticism, as well as with lively and impassioned critique.   (There’s a marvelous manifesto by Kumanyika on Transom that highlights the tensions between critical attention to race and normalizing habits of listening; this would be a great piece to bring into a lesson on “listening” to race).  While the entire series is wonderfully listenable, the first two episodes are each teachable as stand-alone pieces.  Turning the Lens, Part 1 explores the complex entanglement of slavery with scientific racism.  How Race was Made, Part 2 turns to the tensions between pseudo-scientific dogma about race and the scientific debunking of “race” as a biological category. 

One from the Vaults

The podcast that brings you all the dirt, gossip and glamour from trans history!  One from the Vaults, created and produced by Morgan M. Page, explores trans history through episodes that focus on the dramatic, unexpected or history-changing stories of trans artists, activists, musicians and actors. This is an excellent podcast to integrate into courses or lessons on trans studies, gender studies or explorations of political and social movements– especially because the concrete and singular details come to such sonic life in each episode.  

Especially teachable episode

   It can be challenging, in lessons or syllabi more broadly, to make careful space for the individual and collective actors who participated in hugely significant events.  Stormé Weather, episode 18, fills this crucial gap by reflecting on the Black drag king at the centre of the Stonewall rebellion. The episode also raises questions about the complexity of history as an empirical endeavour, demonstrating the difficulties of verifying the “truth” of long-ago events through archival and anecdotal evidence.

How to Read

Brief conversations with brilliant minds.  How to Read is a podcast for curious readers of all kinds, staging conversations with literary scholars and philosophers about their own pedagogical insights, contentions or strategies.  The tone is casual, even cozy (as tea gets poured and shared between the host and guest), but the themes are conceptually rich and often relevant to pressing current social and political issues.  The tea-pouring that occurs in each episode might seem innocuous, but it works to remind listeners that scholars are embodied people, who have their own idiosyncrasies and preferences.  In other words, this podcast is a great resource for inviting students to resist the persuasiveness of “brilliant minds,” at least insofar as brilliance sometimes is a proxy for disembodied, universal voices of authority.

Especially teachable episodes

   The podcast’s first episode is a great template for audio that is “teachable”. It would work well as a prompt for students who are, themselves, hoping to create theoretically rigorous, listenable audio. This episode, Intriguing Opening Sentences, features Jenny Davidson, who turns to a pile of her own favourite novels and reads out their first sentences– going on to explain the import of these sentences for the plot, genre, form or other key parts of fiction.  

   Episode 9, How to Read Philosophy, features Kwame Anthony Appiah, discussing an often-highly-under-theorized aspect of philosophy: namely, the import of style.  This episode would work beautifully at the beginning of an introduction to philosophy course, as a way to invite students to think differently about the “genre” or form of philosophical writing.  It would also prompt fascinating conversation in upper-division philosophy courses, especially since Appiah stages his own, perhaps surprising readings of a great range of philosophers (moving from Derrida and Nietzsche to Quine, and then to Montaigne and Kant).

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Stories of the Land

Indigenous storytelling that connects indigenous stories and knowledge to time and place. Part of the Indian and Cowboy podcast network and hosted by Ryan McMahon, this podcast features a rich array of storytellers and writers, activists and artists and academics.  Each episode demonstrates the importance of this claim in particular:  Without land, there will be no reconciliation.  Season 2, supported by a Canada Council for the Arts Reconciliation Grant, includes recordings from live storytelling events, as well as interviews. 

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson explains why stories from the land are vital in the context of discussions of reconciliation: “Land is not mentioned in any of the recommendations, in part because the commission was set up to focus on individual suffering in residential schools. Yet, residential schools were a strategy used by Canada to break the connection between Indigenous peoples and our lands, so the state could access the land for settlement and for natural resources.”  By soliciting and sharing stories from the land, this project is an example of critical indigenous podcasting.  It’s an excellent resource for examining colonialism as an ongoing system that continues to shape institutions and relations, rather than a historical process that is based in the past.

Especially teachable episodes

  James Whetung    James Whetung, Curve Lake First Nation member, harvests and sells wild rice or Manomiin. In this episode, Whetung shares vivid stories about the significance of his reclamation of Manomiin, while laying out the political and existential import of “Canada’s wild rice wars.”  He articulates a vision of reconciliation that is essentially ecological: “I don’t want the land back broken. I want the land back fixed.”

   Hayden King & Natural Law    Hayden King’s reflections on a hunting experience open up complex questions about the relations between the law, treaties and local ecologies. He asks, “What happens when we break our laws & understanding of those laws on the land? What is the penalty we pay as Anishinaabe Peoples when we break these laws – accidentally or otherwise? How do we make peace with ourselves, the land, the animals and the waters when we break the laws & Treaties we’ve made since time immemorial?”

logo: sketch of a human heart with "the heart" written overtop

The Heart

An audio art project about intimacy and humanity.  Directed by Kaitlin Prest with a team of fantastic audio-creators, The Heart is a feminist and sex-positive podcast. In a recent interview, Mitra Kaboli (Senior Producer who has been with The Heart since its beginnings) describes the craft of the show:  “We want to create a whole new dimension to listening to a story.”  Along these lines, the podcast is teachable because of its craft: many episodes open up the acoustics of intimacy, incorporating all kinds of recordings of sexual-social life. It’s also teachable for its often unflinching commitment to exploring first-person stories about identity, sex and sexuality, and the complex world of norms that often govern sexual lives. Mitra acknowledges in the same interview that the show has recently gained a wider audience and has started to reflect more “normal”/ less “queer” stories.  It’s really worthwhile, for that reason, to listen back through the archives, especially to episodes from the show that preceded The Heart, Audio SmutThe Heart was a Peabody Award finalist in 2017.

Definitely listenable, not necessarily teachable episode

  The Heart’s mini-series, “No,” is a four-part exploration of the ambiguities that surround consent. There are trigger warnings at the beginning of each episode, but these are warnings for podcast-listeners, rather than for students; given the theme, it would be better assigned as “optional” instead of “required” listening.  That said, the series is a fascinating audio-project, especially in terms of the insights that audio, as a medium, proffers.  Each episode integrates Kaitlin’s memories, excerpts from her diaries, conversations with friends, tape of her own sexual experiences and a difficult-to-listen-to confrontation with a former lover (this is the site of much of the drama of the series: highly contested terrain involving the boundaries of consent). The fourth episode concludes with a range of self-critical reflections by Kaitlin and the other creators of the show, including ones that point out the hetero, cis-gendered and white dynamics of the series.  (Another reason why this might not lend itself to the classroom as required listening). There’s a feminist refrain throughout the season that is laid out explicitly in the fourth episode:  “Consent isn’t the absence of a ‘no’; it’s the presence of a ‘yes’.” 

Logo words "Now Here This"

Now Here This

A platform for student-produced audio stories of all kinds. Now Here This features memoirs and interviews, investigative journalism and live storytelling, slam poetry, and more. “Our mission is to connect listeners with a diverse array of emotions, experiences, and ideas through stories told out loud. We believe that voices are at the heart of human connection, and we can’t wait to share what we’re hearing.”   If you’re incorporating audio into your classes as a medium for students to work with, this is an excellent resource for foregrounding the specific and significant import of student voices: it would be a great prompt, for example, for soliciting discussion about what undergrads comment on, what they choose to emphasize, and where the aesthetic and conceptual centre lies in student-produced storytelling.

Especially teachable episode

   A beautifully produced three-part series, “for us by us”:  part 1 (soul studies), part 2 (oj), and part 3 (knohisry).  These episodes range from a curated and annotated student-produced playlist, a reflective conversation with a student DJ, and an interview with a DJ/music engineer.  Any of these would be a great teachable audio essay, especially in terms of the role that “audio” plays in student life.

The words "Reply All"

Reply All

A podcast about the internet. Reply All is described by The Guardian as “an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.” Hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, episodes are filled with dramatic encounters with all-things technological.  Stories can be remarkably complex, and yet the hosts’ narration maintains a steadfast, at times comedic, refrain in which weirdness can become explainable and rabbit-holes can be navigated.  It’s a truly engaging podcast, all the more captivating if listeners follow along with the backstory (involving how PJ and Alex are hired to create Reply All) found in Startup’s first season about the birth of the podcast network Gimlet Media.  The podcast is teachable in the context of critical thinking about technology, the internet, generational differences connected to technological change, issues of surveillance, and tensions involving the local and global networks of commerce.

Especially teachable episode

     It can be fascinating to draw collective attention to the generational differences at play within the classroom.  (Some of us only got email when we were undergrads ourselves, for example, a stark contrast to the always-networked backgrounds of our students).  Many of Reply All’s episodes lend themselves to this theme.  Perhaps consider “#83 Voyage into Pizzagate” or “#98 Fog of Covfefe” for episodes that foreground the political import of twitter.  (Teachers might find themselves on the side of less-literate, in conversations with students about these episodes).  Each includes examples of the fantastic “Yes Yes No,” a recurring segment on Reply All that dramatizes the gap in twitter-literacy between PJ and Alex and their boss. 

Logo that states "turning stories into ideas"

Hi-Phi Nation

A show about philosophy that turns stories into ideas. Created and produced by Barry Lam, Hi-Phi Nation is “the first sound and story-driven show about philosophy.”  This podcast lends itself directly to the undergraduate philosophy classroom, providing an array of dramatic answers to the question: what happens when philosophy is translated into audio?

Especially teachable episode

  The Bottom of the Curve  This episode explores the existential crises of undergrad, mid-life and long-dead canonical philosophers. Integrating the reflections of three professional philosophers with the musings of students in their early-twenties, this episode would be great to teach in the context of lessons where “philosophy” is discussed in its many incarnations: canonical texts; professional vocation; personal and interpersonal concepts and experiences.

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The Henceforward

The henceforward is the start of the future now.  “A podcast on settler colonialism and anti-blackness on Turtle Island.  Here we seek to build mutually respectful conversations about indigenous and black life in settler societies” through attempting to talk text, transit and land.”Produced by Eve Tuck, The Henceforward is a member of the Indian & Cowboy Podcast Media Network.  

This is a highly teachable podcast, especially in the context of courses or lessons that explore critical race, indigenous and decolonial theories and texts.  Its title is a reference to Frantz Fanon’s statement in The Wretched of the Earth: “Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred— or everyone will be saved.”

Especially teachable episode

  I Don’t Want to Ask You a F’d Up Question   This seven-minute conversation between Eve Tuck and Rinaldo Walcott lends itself to streaming and listening in the classroom, since it is both short and gripping.  It begins with this statement by Walcott:  “The kind of question I’m willing to tolerate and engage with from a non-white person is very different from that of a white person.”  Tuck and Walcott dig into the complexities of communication, especially in relation to the asymmetries in voice, perspective, experience and meaning itself.  

This short episode would pair beautifully with the introduction to The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind, written by Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda.  

     The episode also lends itself to discussions about the work of Frantz Fanon and contemporary critical readings like Red Skin, White Masks by Glen Coulthard.  Here’s a handout that pairs this 7-minute episode with a chapter by Coulthard. 

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She Does Podcast

Conversations with creative minds.  This is a wonderfully listenable (and teachable) podcast: beautifully produced, carefully curated.  Here’s how the podcast describes itself: 

Each episode centers around an intimate conversation yet digs deeper into each woman’s background, philosophy and process through artful audio documentaries soundtracked by music made by women. The show is hosted and created by Elaine Sheldon and Sarah Ginsburg, documentary makers who are interested in how their guests got to where they are today…. We bring you stories of what makes these women tick, their beginnings, their roadblocks, and the delightful bits in between.

Especially teachable episode

  Lina Srivastava    What’s the nature of social impact?   Can art truly change people’s perspectives and compel emancipatory change on the level of systems and structures?  If so, what is the power of arguments themselves?    This episode’s conversation anchors these kinds of conceptual questions in highly concrete stories and examples.  Consider teaching alongside the documentary that Lina helped work on, Born into Brothels, which in turn might be more useful when paired with feminist critical theory like Seyla Benhabib’s Another Cosmopolitanism

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Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle brings you the stories of life inside prison, shared and produced by those living it.  Ear Hustle is a partnership between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Nigel Poor, a Bay Area artist.   Each episode is beautifully crafted, framing first-person reflections and stories in broader terms that invite listeners to take stock and question their own presumptions about surveillance, incarceration and the nature of vexed concepts such as “freedom” and “discipline” and “race” and “self-expression.” 

 

Every episode is teachable 

     Each episode of Ear Hustle includes a statement by the public information officer at San Quentin State Prison:  “I approve this story.”  The podcast, in other words, flags explicitly its own epistemic constraints.  As an audio-project that is produced from within San Quentin, Ear Hustle is subject to highly specific rules and procedures.  Any one of these episodes lends itself to the classroom.  And it might be especially fruitful to pair Ear Hustle with abolitionist-writings like those of Angela Davis

 

The logo for Disability After Dark: silhouette of Andrew Gurza in wheelchair

Disability After Dark

Shining a bright light on sex and disability.  This charming and savvy podcast, hosted by Andrew Gurza, reflects an approach to audio that Andrew describes as “self-podcasting.” In addition, its DIY flavour, combined with Andrew’s own experience as a Disability Awareness Consultant, makes it a compelling example of what we could also call “critical podcasting.”  This podcast would lend itself to conversations with students about the political, moral and existential significance of projects like Disability After Dark, as well as to intro- or more advanced-level discussions about disability, sexuality, queer theory and gender studies and crip theory.

Especially teachable episode

 Episode 44: Picture This    This episode is a wide-ranging conversation between Andrew and two filmmakers, a National Film Board director and producer who worked on the new NFB film about Andrew, titled “Picture This.”  In the episode, Andrew introduces the filmmakers to terms like “inspiration porn” and “crip tax,” and the discussion opens up the concrete and the complex challenges involved with creating a project like Picture This.  The episode would pair beautifully with the NFB documentary Picture This.

Consider teaching the episode as well as the film alongside Tobin Siebers, “A Sexual Culture for Disabled People.

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The Unmute Podcast

Welcome to the place where philosophy and real world issues collide.  “The Unmute experience is a philosophical hip-hop and unapologetic intellectual jazz. It’s a home-cooked meal made for the everyday citizen.”  This interview-based monthly podcast, hosted by Myisha Cherry, features a wide array of philosophers (ranging from grad students to established scholars across the philosophy spectrum).

Every episode is teachable

This podcast lends itself beautifully to the classroom; it would work especially well in courses in which philosophy majors and minors tend to be enrolled.  Here are a few suggestions for incorporating this podcast into teaching.

First, Myisha Cherry begins each interview with the same question: “How did you become interested in philosophy?”  It would work well to assign different episodes of the podcast to groups of students within a course, asking each group to reflect on the specific responses that Myisha’s interlocutor lay out in their assigned episode.  This would likely facilitate productive questions about the nature, limitations and disciplinary imperatives of philosophy.

Second, it can be enormously helpful for students to hear a thinker that they’re currently reading converse about their work.  And so consider assigning an episode that features a philosopher that you plan to teach.  Here’s a brief sample of the range of episodes that The Unmute Podcast has produced:  Kristie Dotson on “Ignorance,” Joel Michael Reynolds on “Disability” Linda Alcoff on “Whiteness,” Cassie Herbert on “Risky Speech,” and Meena Krishnamurthy on “Political Distrust.”

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Song Exploder

Song Exploder is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. 

This is an impeccably produced podcast.  And its genre could be described as deconstructive:  each episode isolates the varied and distinct tracks that make up a multi-track song (the drums, the various samples, the vocals). Listeners are able to listen to each specific track and, at the same time, hear commentary by musicians about the genealogy of the various tracks, sounds and sound-decisions.  Each episode culminates with the song in its entirety.

Its craft is what makes this a highly teachable podcast.  As Hrishikesh Hirway, the podcast’s creator, explains, each episode reflects a kind of design puzzle. By cutting away unnecessary tape and by making judicious choices about editing (in what order to place bits of conversation, for example), Hrishikesh presents “what people mean, not what they say.”  In this way, the podcast has a kind of double pedagogical value:  its impeccable sound design is instructive for students who are interested in the craft of audio, and its content also opens up invaluable aesthetic insights about art, artistry, engineering, commerce and the genealogy of art-creation. 

Especially teachable episode

    Episode 105  Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”    What’s at stake in the composition of a queer love song?  This episode lends itself to conversations about the relations between affect and form, especially when those relations are inflected with existential and political struggle.  Around 8:30 (in this 14-minute episode), musician Mike Hadreas muses about the import of his own sound-design choices:  “I think if something is too beautiful or too kind and gentle or sweet, it becomes background music, and I feel like if there’s a little bit of dissonance, it makes everything more lasting and even enhances the joy.”  He goes on to make a fascinating distinction between songs that try to convince one’s oppressor of the nature of injustice and songs that express truths about existence.  “It’s definitely a love song,” he concludes about the song “Slip Away.”

 

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How to Be a Girl

Hi, I’m Marlo Mack. I’m a single mom raising a young transgender daughter. We live in Seattle. With my daughter’s help, I produce How to Be a Girl, an audio podcast about our life together and the challenges we face.”

This podcast, which is award-winning and beautifully produced, lends itself directly to the classroom. In many ways, it’s an essentially pedagogical podcast.  Marlo, the pseudonymous host, integrates her own ongoing reflections about parenting a trans daughter with tape from their daily life together. Where the tape is intimate, engaging and evocative, the reflections open up broader socio-political and existential questions about the relationality of gender-identity (and of parenting, and development more generally).  Marlo invites the listener to accompany her own pedagogical journey, and along the way she stages important lessons about trans-inclusive, impassioned learning.

Especially teachable episode

     Episode 19:  Red State Mama   Marlo explains, “I thought I was pretty brave until I met my counterpart from a red state.”   This is an excellent episode to teach as an on-its-own episode, since Marlo’s conversation with another mom of a transgender kid sharpens Marlo’s own thinking about the stakes of her podcast as well as the fundamental issues of social justice that are at play.  Like the other episodes in this podcast, it’s the tape of the girls themselves (Marlo’s and her guest’s daughters, laughing and telling stories) that demonstrate how effective “audio” is as a medium for critical thinking. 

As a way to animate conversation about the podcast, consider watching one of Marlo Mack’s videos together in class.    And, for a helpful discussion prompt, here’s an overview of trans literature by Gwen Benaway (which includes a great list of recommendations for trans fiction and poetry-reading).

Taking up one of Gwen’s suggestions, the episode would pair beautifully with some of the short stories in Casey Plett’s Lamba-award-winning collection, “A Safe Girl to Love“.    In turn, students might enjoy listening to Casey converse about her writing process in this episode of the Woodland Secrets podcast.  And, as one final recommendation:  the last entry in Casey Plett’s McSweeney’s column, “Voices,” lends itself to in-class conversations about gender, transition and the specific dynamics of voices.

Politically Re-Active with W. Kamau Bell & Hari Kondabolu

How do we survive in the age of Trump? Kamau and Hari are here for you.   At times, it can be the most useful thing to bring smart and politically astute comedy into the classroom.  And this podcast makes that easily doable.  All the more useful because Kamau and Hari bring their own comedic sensibilities to bear upon pressing political news of the day.  (In addition to this podcast, Kamau hosts CNN’s United Shades of America, a gig that he often reflects upon in Politically Re-Active, and Hari’s new album Mainstream American Comic is a follow-up to his debut album which was released on Kill Rock Stars).

Each episode includes an interview with a political theorist, activist, writer or journalist.  This is a great podcast to integrate into a lesson as a way to foreground the significance of timely events, as they’re emerging and, likely, converging with in-class conversation.  It also lends itself to class discussions about the nature, limits and liberatory potential of public discourse (from social media to university classrooms).

Especially teachable episode

 Pastor McBride Says Stop Reaching For Whiteness (Season 1):  this is an excellent episode to assign as required listening.  Consider re-listening in class to a section together (starting at 6.48) and highlighting, in your discussion, the sound design choices at play (in the framing, editing and juxtaposition of “tape”).  In this section, Pastor Mike explains, “It’s always difficult to talk about race…. People want to believe a beautiful lie, rather than live with the ugly truth.  Race is robbing every single individual of this country of their full humanity.”  Kamau and Hari, as hosts, pause the tape of the interview in order to expand upon the meaning of white supremacy—and the ugly truth that many people benefit from a system of white supremacy.

Consider pairing this episode with James Baldwin’s “On Being White—and Other Lies.”

 

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PodcastRE

A searchable, researchable, archive of podcasting culture. This site is a fantastic interface for navigating the enormous world of outstanding audio, produced by the Department of Communication Arts and Libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madisin.  They explain: 

PodcastRE contains links and metadata records to over 150,000 individual audio files, from over 1000 different podcast feeds. Our search engine lets you search by show title, episode title, or keyword and display the results by grid or list….  and we have over 5000 interactive audio transcripts for different shows in our database, all of which is searchable from the general search bar.

If you are interested in locating an audio piece that explores a specific subject, writer or theme, you’re likely to discover listenable (and teachable) episodes.

 

 

Think Again: A Big Thinks Podcast

Spontaneous talk on surprise topics. Hosted by Jason Gotts, this podcast might, every now and then, remind you of the specific vernacular of theory-boys.  But– its positives far outweigh this possibly limiting quality.  Each episode features wide-ranging, off-script conversation with a writer, artist, academic or activist.  And, as a way to converse in even more unscripted ways, Jason and his guest then riff together on whatever theme prompts discussion from a set of videos that they watch, taken at random from the Big Thinks archive.

It’s likely that, if you are teaching contemporary writers, there will be an episode that syncs directly with your course material.  (There’s a hilarious and fascinating interview with Ayelet Waldman about her book about micro-dosing on LSD, for example.  And a wonderful episode on Elif Batuman’s recent novel about undergraduate life in the mid-90s and the great array of philosophical and linguistic questions it explores—including the import of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).

Especially teachable episode

    Jelani Cobb: Shiny New Skin, Same Old Snake (episode 71):  an evocative conversation about writing, biopolitics and embodiment.  (This episode would work well as part of a lesson on Foucault).  Towards the beginning of the interview, Jelani Cobb reads an excerpt from his own work:  “’Vinyl always smells like the absence of sweat.’”  He then explains that “there’s a need to flag the difference between being a thing and looking like a thing…. This reminds me of Foucault, who explains that power finds insidious new forms and goes underground…” and cites Frederick Douglass, “‘Let’s wait to see what new form this old snake takes.’”     A marvelous prompt for in-class conversations about the injury, violence and systematic injustices that occur because of biopolitical structures– and also about the very existential toll that biopolitics demands (such that vinyl might approximate the lived sweat of labour, deceiving us about the nature of labour itself). 

 

The World in Words

Exploring all aspects of language, from linguistics and ethnography to pop culture and philosophy.  The World in Words has been creating highly teachable and engaging episodes for years.  Similar to the podcast The Allusionist, it’s worth perusing their archives to find themes or problems that you want to explore in the classroom.  (One might even find an episode devoted to one’s own mother’s beloved mother tongue, for example).   There are many segments, within episodes, that lend themselves to in-class listening and discussion.   All in all, worth subscribing and listening to regularly, if you’re keen to bring more audio into your courses. 

Especially teachable episode

     Which version of Indian history do American school students learn?  This episode deserves a much pithier and provocative title because it’s a marvelous little piece of audio-exploration.  The episode includes tape from a California public debate about which terminology should be used by textbooks to refer to Indian history. It frames this debate, which is a heated and moving one, with a range of philosophical and political frameworks for approaching “history,” “identity,” “religion” and even the very nature of accents.  (There’s a noteworthy apology by the podcast’s creator, Patrick Cox, at the end of the episode: this could be excellent to re-play in class as a prompt for exploring the problematic ways in which some accents become marked and others naturalized as “right”). 

 

Tape

A radio show about people who make radio. Each episode, hosted by Mooj Zadie and Mickey Capper, features an audio-creator who reflects on their own sound design and audio-craft.

Especially teachable episode 

       Kaitlin Prest:  an interview with the creator of award-winning podcast, The Heart.  Kaitlin explains a lot about her own creative process, including her DIY-beginnings in Montreal with the wonderful feminist and queer show Audio Smut.   For more about how she got started (and became a highly influential audio-creator and member of Radiotopia), here’s a post by Kaitlin, “Lessons in getting an Indie Podcast off the ground,” at CBC’s The Doc Project.

 

Colour Code

A Podcast about Race in Canada. Hannah Sung and Denise Balkissoon from the Globe and Mail explain, “If there’s one thing Canadians avoid, it’s talking about race. This podcast is here to change that.”

Especially teachable, award-winning episode

       “Eggshells” is the episode that truly lends itself to teaching. It includes an interview with Robin DiAngelo, who coined the phrase “white fragility,” and the episode, as a whole, is one long (horrifying and revelatory) engagement with white fragility.  It works as an episode to assign outside of class and also as one to listen together.

     Here’s a handout that lays out crucial bits of the episode’s script and backdrop-information.

 

HowSound

The backstory to great radio storytelling. This is an extraordinary podcast, in and of itself, and it’s particularly great for those of us who are fascinated by the craft of audio.  Rob Rosenthal is the lead teacher for the Transom Story Workshop, and this is his podcast.  He often shares an excerpt from an audio piece in order to critique it, identifying significant design elements or pointing out limitations.

Especially teachable episodes

      Tinkering with Sound Design:  we learn about a challenge, faced by one of Rob’s students, Martine Power (who works on an excellent podcast herself, The Get), and the super-smart design choices that Martine lands upon.  It lends itself to in-class listening, particularly if you listen to the segment 14.50 to 19.26.  It’s striking how a seemingly staid or dry topic (“traffic circles”) can become alive and dynamic through the careful use of sound and sound design.

      My Kingdom for Some Structure:  in which Rob explores some of the differing structures that leading audio-creators use.  As always, it’s a brilliant little lesson, all the more effective because Rob himself is such an audio artist.

       A Mom, a Transgender Daughter, and a Podcast:  in which Rob discusses the award-winning podcast How to Be a Girl with Marlo Mack  (this podcast recently won Best International Podcast).  Their conversation includes moving excerpts from the podcast and Marlo’s reflections on the stakes and significance of her audio work.

 

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything

Personally connecting the dots.  All of them. This is the tagline of the Radiotopia podcast Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything, and the tagline’s absurdist reach is partly why this is such a stunningly listenable and teachable podcast.  Benjamen brings artists and activists together with academics, often framing discussions in the first-person: in this way, his episodes dramatize many of the most important questions of critical theory, existentialism, feminist theory and media studies.   Every episode anchors the concrete in the conceptual and, at the same time, dramatizes highly complex ideas through conversation, reflection and stories.

Especially teachable episodes

     Benjamen’s 3-part series, Instaserfs, brings to life, in vivid if at times graphic detail, the existential significance of the “sharing economy.”  Particularly relevant for thinking about life in our neo-liberal era.

     Another 3-part series, New York After Rent, is an impeccable exploration of two seemingly unrelated events:  the emergence of Airbnb in New York City and the closure of the Broadway Musical Rent. As he explores the entangled nature of these events, Benjamen talks about gentrification with Sarah Schulman, faces his own fading idealism about “art,” and invites us all to contemplate the very possibility of “critique” in an age of self-entrepreneurship and what Schulman calls “the gentrification of the mind.”   

     Here’s a set of discussion questions based around episode 3  from New York After Rent  (the three episodes in the series can work as stand-alone pieces).

     Benjamen recently did a multi-series exploration of surveillance that is very teachable.  The first episode introduces us to the Panopticon, and subsequent episodes explore a much greater range of models, abstractions and diagnoses of “surveillance.”   (The episodes in the series work as stand-alone pieces). 

Particularly teachable in this series is the episode “The Fairest of Them All,” in which Benjamen visits a conceptual and performance art exhibit, the Glass Room, and then stops by a Google pop up store.     Benjamen muses, “Visiting the Google Room after the Glass Room was both extremely illuminating and disorienting. Do we really need black mirrors in order to see the dark side of filling our homes with devices that listen to our every word and track our every gesture? Do we really need black mirrors to see that our data is being used to build powerful surveillance and advertising—based systems of control? And if we do, how do we compete? That’s the question I struggle with.”     This episode is particularly teachable  because many of the artists, profiled in the episode, have wonderfully interactive art online that students can observe, engage with and ponder.

 

The Get

Smart. Snark. Shade.  This is how the show describes itself: 

“THE GET’S CREATIVE TEAM is crew of women of color who are committed to social justice, living, and being free. We are inspired by LaVerne Cox’s concept of “possibility models” and the growing representation of marginalized voices in all forms of social media. The Get is our effort to take up space, to share our voices, and to encourage our listeners to do the same. 

We’re manspreading in the podcast world. Won’t you join us? “

Especially teachable episode

     Thoughts, Guts and Feelings:  every episode of the podcast lends itself to teaching critical race theory, existentialism and media studies.  This episode is particularly great, teaching-wise; one suggestion is to assign the episode, before class, and then in class, re-listen to a short segment (6.07 to 7.11) that draws out the absurdities (and macabre comedy, in addition to the harmful presumptions) that Eva, Ivy and Rhiana detect in the story of Rachel Dolezal. 

    To teach alongside this episode, consider Kimberly TallBear’s article on the complex relations between “identity” (especially when cast in the form of genomics), “race” and indigeneity, “Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity”; in turn, consider pairing TallBear’s article with the Open Letter From Indigenous Scholars Regarding Discussions of Andrea Smith as a way to draw out the colonizing implications of “claims to identity.”

The Story Collider

Stories about Science. This is how The Story Collider describes itself:  “We believe that, now, more than ever, science is a part of everyone’s life. At The Story Collider, you’ll hear from scientists about all the times things went wrong, and occasionally right, in their labs, but you’ll also hear from people who haven’t had a formal connection to science since high school. We have physicists, comedians, neuroscientists, writers, actors, doctors, and many, many more telling their story. Some are heartbreaking; some are hilarious. They’re all true, and all, in one way or another, are about science.”

Especially teachable episode

      Rachel Yehuda: Cause and Effect:  a particularly poignant, first-person reflection on epigenetics and the study of transgenerational trauma.   Rachel Yehuda explains her own trajectory as an important epigenetic researcher, and she shares a key lesson about the dynamics of scientific practice: 

“You can’t do human research if people don’t trust you to be dedicated to the truth, and I knew that I had to earn that trust.”

 

This American Life

Each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. In a lot of ways, TAL has set the stage for the golden age of podcasting.  Ira Glass’s innovations in genre have made it clear that there are endless ways to use audio to craft fantastic stories. 

Especially teachable episode

      Tell me I’m Fat:  this is a particularly evocative episode for teaching feminist philosophy, queer and crip theory, and critical approaches to “health” and “gender.”  

     Here’s a sample lesson plan that brings the episode together with two texts in disability studies (Alison Kafer’s Feminist Queer Crip and a chapter by Stephanie Jenkins in Feminist Philosophies of Life).

 

RadioLab

A show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. RadioLab explores the dramas of science and scientific practice, occasionally pitching its analysis in overly populist terms.  But some episodes dare to cross into truly complex territory, using “sound” to make ideas come alive.

Especially teachable episodes

      Loops is a particularly sublime piece of audio.   It pairs a surrealist comedy sketch about looping with first-person stories about biomedicine, consciousness and time.  It would work especially well in a lesson about learning, repetition and time. 

      From Tree to Shining Tree:  an immersive exploration of the nature of networks.   Here’s a suggested approach:  assign the full episode to listen before class, and then in class re-listen to two segments together as a class:

 (listen to a selection in class, from 8:57 to 11:04).  “All these trees were sharing their food underground…. It was like a huge network…. circles, sprouting lines…. Just this incredible communications network that people had no idea bout in the past because we didn’t know how to look…. You think they’re individuals, but no, they’re all linked to each other…. The Wood-Wide Web….  This is going places.”     (start again at 21.11, and listen until 27.04)  “… Is there anyone whose job it is to draw little chalk outlines…? They have found salmon in tree rings…. The scale of this is so vast, and we didn’t know this until very very recently.  You have a forest, you have mushrooms… they’re networked… and they’re capable of forestrial behaviours that are deeply new, and they’re so interesting.” 

 

[Listening for things we don’t know how to listen for]