Podcasting as Meaning Exchange

I had a good day at Leicestershire Cares yesterday, running a podcasting training session. It was the first time in ages that I’ve run a workshop in person by myself, though I needn’t have worried, as I was made to feel very welcome by the team of Leicestershire Cares staff. We talked a lot about inspiring young people, who Leicestershire Cares works with a lot, and how we can encourage them to share their views and experiences about their life, and to do this in a way that they would be happy to turn into a podcast.

The idea of using podcasting, not just as an information or entertainment product, but as a personal and community development tool, is something I’ve been exploring in my work for a number of years. Podcasting for personal growth and social development probably isn’t what most people think is a benefit of sitting chatting, having a conversation, while recording that conversation, then sharing that conversation on the internet.

However, there are many advantages that emerge from this process, and it was great to be able to explore them with the team from Leicestershire Cares, who work in similar ways already. If we keep in mind the adage that community media is ten percent media and ninety percent community, then we can link up a wide range of skills and expertise from the team at Leicestershire Cares, such as community development, personal coaching, trauma-informed therapy, and so on.

It turned out making podcasts based on principles of care is an easy fit because it meant that we were able to bring together the different approaches that are already established as part of the mission of Leicestershire Cares, which is to work towards an “inclusive and safe Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland where nobody is left behind, and all children and young people are supported to reach their full potential.”

If the process is handled correctly, I think podcasting can be a very effective reflexive tool for personal growth and development, particularly for people who haven’t or may never see themselves as typically playing a prominent role in our mainstream media. Most of our media courses are now designed around the skills escalator model, which is designed to feed the media and creative industries with suitably trained production workers, and which ignores the multiple other reasons for producing and sharing media.

So many people get overlook or misrepresented in our mainstream media, and there are low levels of trust for journalism and industrial-scale media producers. On the personal and local level, there are few opportunities to work with other people to represent ourselves, develop our voice, and learn to use the tools of media production that have become widely available in the last twenty years.

This is why I know that community media is a good model. It puts the power of self-representation in the hands of many more people. As Raymond Williams noted, if you want to democratise the media, you have to de-professionalise it first. Community media, which I’ve noted often, only travels at the speed of trust, and given that so many people don’t trust our media, there is a steep gradient of distrust that we have to overcome.

In our conversation, we discussed the idea that there are two groups of people that we need to keep in mind in different ways. The first group need to build their confidence. They must be reassured that there is a secure underpinning to their lives and social experience. They need a floor on which to stand that is certain and offers them security.Young people have fewer secure assets in life, both physically and symbolically, so providing a framework that serves their basic needs requires consistent and ongoing investment.

Alternatively, once that security is established and is stable, then there really is no ceiling (in theory) to limit their potential.  As long as they are allowed to explore and develop their imagination and creativity, then they can be lifted to do interesting and purposeful things. I’m not naive about this potential, though, and the entrenched British class system, racism, misogyny, and so on, are all acting in the opposite direction, forcing that imaginative spirit back down, and even worse, into anti-social or personally destructive loops of negative behaviour.

So, and that said, as well as offering practical advice about making podcasts, I wanted to get across the idea that podcasting can be an effective development tool that fosters reflexivity and self-awareness. Given the stage of development that most young people will be at, and their pathway along which they have travelled, then reflection and introspection may not be a well-developed skill that they feel confident to explore – and nor should it be.

Podcasting, however, if done sensitively, has the potential to provide a mediated object form, from which participants in the process of discussion can hear themselves, maybe even for the first time. At first, contributors may be short and sporadic in their musings, but with time they may become more confident and offer longer and deeper reflections. As participants learn to draw out from both their experiences and their thoughts and feelings, they hold their ground for longer.

We tend to think of media as a performative activity, in which participants adopt a persona that they act out. This care-based approach is different because it is contemplative and reflexive. It operates more in a therapeutic mode, where there is a search to understand our experiences in the context of the thoughts and feelings that go with them, the impact that they have on others, and the priority of individual growth and learning.

At the early stages of our development, we often learn through imitation, copying the actions and the style of others. We can see this in the social media influences phenomenon, where many people learn how to produce media by copying and re-articulating what they have seen other people do. This can only take us so far, however, and at some point we would hope to see a more individuated character start to emerge, particularly in relation to the way we present and deport ourselves.

As some point, we have to learn to be us. We have to learn to express ourselves in a way that is true to our character. Some see this as a mode of authenticity, though it’s not to be confused with the simulation of authenticity which pervades modern media and communications models. Instead, our character comes from our inner-genius which is tied with our character, our values and our cognitive functioning.

Each of us is unique, so each of us has a different path that we are destined to follow across a lifetime. How do we respond to the challenges of life? Do we go against or with the grain of our character? What I like about podcasting is that in the verbal exchange of ideas and experiences, we get to make sense of our character and how others interact with us. Podcasting has the potential to be a powerful tool for self-reflection.

By pursuing this more contemplative mode of communication, I believe we can take the pressure off people to have to define themselves by other people expectations and standards. Podcasting isn’t an answer to all of our development needs, but it is a powerful tool that opens up the way of extended critical and reflexive thinking, much in the way that writing achieves extended consciousness building.

The simplicity of the process of a meaningful conversation has many benefits. By allowing us to explore ideas and concepts thoroughly, within the framework of an ongoing, structured process of thinking. This alleviates both the anxiety that comes with modern life, and the habit of mistaking of persona and personality with character, while also creating space for mutual position-taking and intercultural learning.

Conversations come in many forms. Facilitating dialogue through the dialectical method isn’t simply about the clash of ideas and principles, rather, it is a process of pulling into consciousness those thoughts, feelings and experiences that we know are lurking at the edges of our consciousness. They sit in the shadows of our awareness, but we have not yet had the temerity to bring them to the centre of our attention.

We can do this through shared and mutual dialogue, and this dialogue can include many different types of people at different stages of their development, not just those who are confident that they are sure-footed and can speak confidently. Podcasting in this way has the potential to bring many more people into the conversational mode, which in my experience, is something that they enjoy doing, so let’s do more.

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