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14 February 2013

Journo-sociology and the Podcast

This past summer, my wife and I moved, and I now make a 70-mile commute to work three times a week. In an effort to more productively pass the nine hours I spend in the car every week, I've been voraciously consuming sociology podcasts. I first made it through the backlog of Office Hours episodes (which I love), turned to the new Contexts podcasts, and am now making my way through the New Books in Sociology podcasts. (On deck is the SociologySource podcast.) Let me start by giving a big thank-you to the folks who take the time to put these together. I imagine that they don't have large (any?) budgets for this, and they all sacrifice time they could otherwise be spending on more traditional teaching- or research-related activities to get the episodes out there. I've learned a lot from the podcasts, and they've offered a lot of fodder for my own teaching, research, and blogging.

That said, I'd like to offer just one critique of sociological podcasting (which probably applies to podcasting more broadly) that I think can help us to see what it is that podcasts do and how that intersects with the social scientific methods we employ in our research.

The sociology podcast formats are different from more traditional kinds of journalistic interviewing that shows up on the likes of the Diane Rehm Show and Fresh Air, the podcasts of which I also follow albeit semi-regularly. The sociology podcasts are typically a dialogue between colleagues rather than a presentation of the interviewee as an expert informant on the given topic. This is most obvious in the way that the interviewer poses questions, which can often turn into long-winded elaborations on a completed thought with a halfhearted question tacked onto the end. This is, after all, how we academics had been socialized as grad students to interact, signaling our prowess to our peers in conversation. An alternative to this format would be closer to both journalistic interviewing and semi-structured sociological interviewing. Taking a cue from Grounded Theory, interviewers would strive to make themselves as invisible as possible. It is the interviewer's job to elicit data through questions and followup questions but then to get out of the way of the data, allowing it to speak for itself.

Let me close as I began by thanking and praising those who do these podcasts. They are wonderful, and I am indebted. Keep it up!

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