Podcasting the Humanities: Shifting intimacies under Covid-19

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Wujun (June) Ke was another Podcasting the Humanities participant from UCI this summer.  She worked with three other participants in the Institute from different colleges and shares her experience here.

Hailing from four public institutions across the US, my cohort’s first conversations getting to know one another revolved around the uncertainties of the job market and our openness to alt-careers given the flexibility demanded from an increasingly adjunctified profession. We established early on that we wanted to do something ambitious and form-pushing with the understanding that this first attempt at podcasting was also a humble experiment.

We were inspired by Dr. Hannah McGregor’s discussion of scholarly intimacies and institutional resistance to understanding a scholar as a whole human being. She points out that if we are entirely and only valued for our minds, then factors like mental health, economic well-being, friendship and other forms of sociality fade into the background. There is no place for vulnerability and self-exposure because we are expected to “be professional”. Likewise, we don’t often talk about mental health because it would point to the unsavory realities of failure and heartbreak, difficulties that are supposed to be confined to the realm of the personal.

Our podcast celebrates the personal. We decided on the topic of “shifting intimacies under Covid-19,” bringing the listeners into our Zoom-dominated lives in audio essays that were inevitably informed by our research interests and the pandemic. Drawing on my love for documentaries, I recorded our free-wheeling discussions on Zoom and created a segment about the making of our podcast. Lauren analyzed the visual politics of Zoom, Kevin discussed the intimacy of strangers on an online fitness course, and Mirna reflected on how Zoom orchestrated the reversal of the private and public spheres. But what gave me the most joy was an intermission we made called “Affirmations for graduate students,” a sound-experiment in which Lauren layered our voices together in idealistic tongue-in-cheek mantras. It ends with the refrain, “be like water,” a quote popularized by Bruce Lee but originally taken from the Daoist classic Daodejing.

During a time when the academic humanities trend towards budget cuts and contract positions, it is not a choice as much as a matter of survival to search for support and platforms outside of institutional academia. Being part of the podcasting institute has inspired me to radically reimagine what scholarship might look like and to rethink possibilities for creative collaboration among humanities scholars.

Listen to the podcast here.