Cheryl E. Ball, PhD
Director, Digital Publishing Collaborative at Wayne State University Libraries
Editor, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy
Executive Director, Council of Editors of Learned Journals
A. Podcast Form
1. It is the contention of this pilot podcast project that the form of the podcast presents scholars with the opportunity to experiment with new modes and means of scholarly communication. Do you agree with this contention?
Yes. On the most basic level, podcasting presents different forms (mediations) of engagement between scholarly work and multiple audiences, on a spectrum between an engaged public listenership (thanks to the open-access nature of podcasts and related digital media scholarly genres) and academics. I've published peer-reviewed (and also editorially reviewed) podcasts as scholarship in online journals I've edited going back at least to 2006. The current iteration of podcasting, however, presents a whole new and forceful (as in *here I am!*) approach to using this medium for scholarly purposes, and doing so through a university press is a wonderful move, imho.
In what ways does this particular podcast series demonstrate the potential of the medium for scholarly dissemination?
This particular podcast takes up an incredibly timely topic (not that feminism is new, but the debate about its relevance has resurfaced with a vengeance since the mid-2010s) and distributes information on it in a weekly manner (given the sample episodes I listened to). The serialization is important to growing an audience and gathering multiple audience types, as mentioned in the first part of Q1 above. Secondly, the use of episode notes is an important way for users to follow-up on scholarly and related sources.
Third, the medium of distribution--through orality and aurality--signals a presence and immediacy with the speakers and content in ways that written scholarly media often cannot offer. The ethos and pathos that are brought to the fore through this podcast series engages me as a listener in ways that struck me immediately. For instance, regardless that I don't wear make-up and think it's kinda meh, listening to the first episode ("Eyeliner and Astrology") was fascinating because I got to listen to the dialog between the podcaster and guest as Yao discussed her gender identity in relation to her make-up, dress, and exercise regime. And then, at ~10:30, she slides into a conversation about Edwardian drama (as an English PhD does... lol) as an example of discussion and thought around feminist engagements with bodies, gender, and life. I voraciously listened to the five sample episodes weeks before I wrote this review because it was like listening to friends talk, and I wanted to be friends with them because the podcaster and their guests are intellectually welcoming to a topic that, I admit, is my lived experience but not my scholarly area of expertise. That's a benefit of the medium that the podcaster uses to relay incredibly deep and often difficult (to understand; to discuss) feminist scholarly content.
(As an aside, the day after I listened to the podcasts, I met someone who asked if I knew the podcaster because she imagined that Hannah and I were good friends already. lol.)
Are there specific ways in which you think the series could be improved in order to take advantage of the form as a way to engage listeners in new lines of scholarly inquiry?
I listened to this podcast while on the plane--where I listen to *all* the podcasts I subscribe to, so I was not able to click through to the podcaster's website, which I hope would contain a full bibliography of all the resources mentioned in each episode. e.g., at the beginning of the 1.1 interview with Xine Yao, they mention a half-dozen scholarly and trade resources [~5:00] that would be nice to see listed in full on the website, or even in the episode notes themselves, for those Airplane Mode users such as myself.
2. The podcast currently includes a first season of 15 episodes. Please identify the episodes you listened to for the sake of this report.
I was asked to listen to 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.7, and 1.15, which I did, and also 1.0, which I had to go back to on occasion to remember Hannah's name (can that be in the Episode notes somehow? It would make citation easier.).
I am dying to listen to all of the other episodes, but held off until I could write this review so as not to overwhelm myself with possible commentary.
What, in your view, is the overarching structure of this 15-episode series?
The podcast jumps into the deep end of an interview-based podcast and by the 15th episode (with Siobhan), it becomes just a bit more polished, more directed, more meta (in its discussion of peer reviewing of the podcast). But other than that, I would hesitate to provide any sort of overarching structure without listening to all 15 episodes, and more so, I am wondering whether it *needs* an overarching structure? I mean, isn't that something we ask of books? And or articles? Just as Hannah talks about the impossibility of double-anonymous peer review for podcasts (ep. 15, 3:53), the series may not need an overarching structure, while each episode does.
Does the podcast as a whole have a discernible scholarly intent informing its approach to its subject(s)? If so, what about the podcast defines it as scholarly?
The amount of feminist theoretical and methodological approaches used and discussed in the series is the first thing that stands out to me as scholarly. (Things I mark as feminist) methods such as dialog, promotion of scholars who identify as women; explaining how academia works in some detail (moving that tacit knowledge to the public realm); drawing on scholarly concepts as discussing them in accessible ways (i.e., Cartesian dualism, ep. 1, 22:40, etc.) while also dipping into academic terms (i.e., ontological, ep. 1, 22:45). And that some of these things are cited in terms of a bibliography either orally or in the episode notes is important for scholars (or soon-to-be scholars) to follow up.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the overall form of this first series?
Strengths: Engaging guests (i.e., content), seamless scholarly conversation about heavy things that still end up light (i.e., tone), amount of content in an easily digestible format (i.e., medium).
Potential weakness: We conceptually know how "books" end = being printed. We can guess how a podcast ends = calling the end of a series (but after how many volumes?). My only and most major concern with this entire project is the podcaster being able to sustain issues on a weekly basis. THIS IS A MASSIVE AMOUNT OF CONTENT, AND I DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW SHE IS PULLING THIS OFF ON THE REGULAR. (I deal with authoring, editing, and publishing scholarly digital media content on the regular, which is why I am concerned. For her. And her well-being.)
The form and content of the podcast is so strong--the production values are really high (from the start, which is quite surprising for many podcast start-ups)--that I wouldn't want her to lose any of that. So, this weakness isn't a weakness really at all, but an editorial and also academic concern: How long does this go on? And at what point does "it" (episode? volume? series?) "count" as equivalent to something that is recognizable for tenure and promotion?
^^ oh, I realize now I am using the wrong word: series stands for 'volume' while 'podcast' stands for how I was using series. Got it.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the structure of the individual episodes?
They make sense to me: Brief intro + Secret Feminist Agenda shout-out + Interviewee introduction + Outro. This follows a typical podcast structure with all the usual genre conventions. Nothing I can recall to call out as a weakness.
Is the length of the episodes in keeping with the aims and scope of the episodes?
I have come to expect a 25-40 minute podcast as being standard for my favorite types of shows (although I admit very few of those are interview-based shows--the main genre the podcaster strives for--mostly because a lot of interview podcasts are too long, around an hour). So I am grateful for the length of this show--not too long and also long enough to have each episode cohere around a topic. Hannah is an expert at holding the conversation around a narrative center (and doing so in an unedited fashion???, see, e.g., ep. 1.3, in which they note early on running the recorder for 25 minutes and then turning it off).
4. Is the apparatus associated with the podcast (including links posted with each episode and related social media sites) scholarly? If not, how might it be strengthened to meet scholarly standards?
Note my comment above about listening on the plane and not being able to access the website. Ok, I went and looked at the website just now. Each episode was a repetition of the liner notes with links to other sources, which is fine, but I would like to see some of the more off-handed scholarly remarks (names, theories, concepts) at least just *listed*. (I'm not ever going to ask the podcaster to go back through and define each thing--that would be like asking her to prepare an annotated bibliography for each episode instead of *just* a bibliography, as a scholar would do. The annotation happens inside the episode, so transcripts are MANDATORY, imo, not only for research purposes but for accessibility purposes.
5. One of the specific aims of this pilot podcast is to engage the form of the podcast as an object of research production. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the series as an expression of scholarly research engagement?
I feel like all the questions above already get at this question. And peer-reviewing the podcast is part of what engages the podcast as an object of scholarly production. I mean, this feels so obvious to me, but then I know I've been embedded in this work for quite a long time (20 years now, I've been producing, editing, and publishing scholarly multimedia in peer-reviewed venues), so it would be obvious to me that this podcast is an object of scholarly research engagement....
I guess, maybe, let me equate it with a story I often tell people when teaching workshops about evaluating digital media scholarship for T&P purposes (which is really just a workshop on HOW TO READ, because COME ON, PEOPLE, you all have PhDs, and you know how to READ by now, right?! lol):
Ten years ago (2007) I gave a workshop on "Reading and Evaluating New Media Scholarship" in two English departments for two prestigious midwestern universities, both of whom had scholars in rhetoric and composition who were publishing digital work and trying to get it to count for T&P. But, as is typical in most English depts, the majority of scholars were literature folks who, far and wide, knew nothing about digital scholarship. (This was, of course, before the rise of Digital Humanities, circa 2010-ish, in literary studies circles.) Anyways, I was in the habit of presenting a particular video that a student had made for one of my classes. It was a 10-minute vid with a kick-ass soundtrack that accompanied the visual and voiceover elements (including visual citations: headshots of the authors he was quoting) that suited each other perfectly and all worked to forward the author's argument in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
When I presented this vid as a pedagogical project, audiences loved it. But after it was published in Kairos's' manifesto issue as a peer-reviewed object, (non-Kairos) audiences didn't buy it, and that's what happened at both of these workshops. The first time, the soundtrack incited a man from the next room to come bang LOUDLY on our class door and angrily tell us to "turn it down; people are working here!" (it was after 5pm, fwiw). #whatev The second time, I presented to the whole department, and when I asked "What about this piece is scholarly?" the noted old-guy Shakespearean said "Nothing." He couldn't even see the visual citations that accompanied verbal cues of that scholarly referencing as "scholarship." I just couldn't even. And thankfully didn't have to, because the one literary studies guy who did humanities computing work from way back piped up to support the work as scholarly. And then 10 more faculty across the department did the same.
The point is: We've come SUCH a long way in the last 10 or 20 years when it comes to engaging digital media content as scholarly, and many of those who were the stalwart do-nothings have retired or otherwise moved on (but not all...). So I'd like to think that it's actually NBD to accept this podcast as scholarly. Because it is--> it makes all the rhetorical moves of a piece of scholarship: Adding new and necessary knowledge to the field of feminist media studies and publishing studies; expanding what counts as "the field" (i.e., through public engagement, a la Boyer's model of scholarship); citing relevant scholarship (through naming of concepts, terms, resources); modeling and testing methodologies to create new knowledge; and testing new forms of knowledge production and distribution with critical reflection and feedback (i.e., peer review; post-production review).
B. Podcast Content
1. What, if anything, is the principle scholarly concern, or central argument, of the podcast series?
A Not-So-Secret Feminist Agenda. It's pretty clear. ;) The scholarly concern is making feminism, through a scholarly lens, an everyday and acceptable thing, and also to broaden what people think feminism is.
What is the guiding scholarly methodology of the podcast series? Is it clear? If not, how might its methods be made more evident without sacrificing the tone of the podcast?
One of the primary tenants of feminist methodology is to uncover and bring to light what doesn't or can't have a voice/be seen/etc. That is, what's *not* included and how can we work to include it. This podcast embraces feminist dialog with women at the center (as an underrepresented group in scholarly publications, if not in feminist publications) as a method to include the undiscussed/uncovered. For instance, the connection in ep. 1.3 between hairy legs (yes!) and academic expectations of publishing was something I've experienced over and over in my career but had not heard anyone discuss until this point.
(Again, I do not count myself as someone who studies feminism--I've encountered it as a by-product of my home discipline, which was founded on feminist principles, but I'm not up on the current research in feminist studies. Which is why this podcast is all the more important--to help an engaged reader begin to understand, through curated resources, how and where to access them.)
2. To what audience(s) is the podcast directed? To what discipline(s) in particular, if any?
I'd say the audiences could be as far and wide as academics (in humanistic disciplines, but especially philosophy, media studies, literary studies, rhetoric, history, communication, and others) and a general audience of engaged listeners who count themselves as feminists or want to know more.
3. Each podcast episode includes a reflective introductory piece and a feature conversation with guest(s). Each episode is accompanied by textual apparatus (e.g. episode notes; external links; references), as well as the podcaster’s associated website and social media platforms. Do you have any suggestions for the improvement of the podcast related to these various components with respect to their style, structure, format, features?
I mentioned these above. For instance, in ep. 1.5, around 4:00, she lists a bunch of (trade) books that are feminist, but those aren't listed anywhere in the notes.
4. In light of the aims of this pilot scholarly podcast series, which of the episodes you have considered (please identify them) were the strongest and which were the weakest? Why?
Ep. 1.1 really brought me into the series. It was a great start. I loved the content of 1.3 because I identified with it.
I think I fell asleep during ep. 1.5 the first time (it's been a month-ish since I listened), but I wouldn't necessarily call that a weakness. I was on a plane, remember, and the beauty of podcasts is you can re-listen to them (which I am re-listening to that one, and all of them, now as I write the review). But I'd say that 1.5 is the one I remember the least. Still, I don't want to do a disservice to that single episode -- because I don't think it matters if there's one that a single audience member doesn't resonate with while others might totally. Part of why I loved 1.1 and 1.3 was my personal resonation with the topics in those (astrology, which I LOVE; and fat, hairy academics, which I AM).
1. Does the podcast series, as it stands, make a significant contribution to its field(s)?
Yes. I am learning SO MUCH about feminism. (e.g., ep. 1.5 - 10:45, that we're not using "waves" in feminism anymore!) The work of translation (ep. 1.5, 13:00) is legitimizing beyond the academy and necessary for scholars who aren't in feminist studies and/or don't have time or desire to sit down and read Helene Cixous, but still want to be conversant in a general way. This kind of work is akin to Translational Science--a highly valued type of scholarly work in the hard sciences that is difficult to do.
2. What are the competing and comparable podcasts in the field(s), and how does this one relate to them?
I don't listen to any other podcasts that are like this one. Ok, maybe, I take that kinda back. The closest thing I listen to that might be related is Slate's Represent, which is an interview-based podcast around something in mass media (TV shows, films, etc.) that feature POC working on those shows.
3. What are the competing and comparable books in the field(s), and how does the podcast relate to them?
Not sure, and I'm not sure it's really relevant to ask this question. The podcast isn't trying to do the work of a scholarly book. Maybe a trade book, like Bad Feminist? But (terribly shaming admission) I haven't read that one yet, so I don't know. (I did buy it two weeks ago, to read as part of this review, but dang I don't have time to do homework for a peer review <-- and that's the beauty of this podcast. I can listen to it when I can't do other stuff.)
4. If you were to assess the potential of a peer-reviewed podcast series to contribute new scholarship to a particular field, to which scholarly form would a podcast series be comparable: A monograph, an edited collection, a special issue of a journal article, a journal article, none of these? Why?
Ugh. I knew this question was coming. I hate it so much, and yet this is always the question people want to know because quantifiability is Sooooooo Stronnnnngg in academia (and so useless in the humanities). I've spent a good part of my career (the last 15 years, anyways) thinking about and researching/publishing on this issue, and it comes down to two things for me: *Is the intellectual heft of your work short-form or long-form?*
I've published book-heft webtexts (the name of the screen-based scholarly multimedia websites we publish at Kairos) in the confines of an article-based production cycle (HARD!). An article in webtext-form isn't just a 25-page double-spaced mss remediated into a website. It is inherently different from its core--at least a _good_ one is.
Maybe a podcast is more like a dataset? But then we get into all sorts of ontological and disciplinary snares about whether data should count as intellectual property. Ugh: WHO CARES?! Just publish something good and meaningful and be done with the tenure nonsense!
The more urgent question for me is the one I mentioned early on: When is this project *done* and what does it mean to be done? That narrative/organizational structure doesn't work like in TV -- or maybe it does like TV did the year the writers went on strike and shows just *ended* without any sweet denouement. The constraints of podcasting are different in that way--funding can run out (because podcasting takes a different kind of scholarly investment); episodic work is reacted to differently (how will post-publication review fit into the tenure system?!), and on and on.
5. Because this pilot scholarly podcast represents, equally, an experiment with the role of peer review in the production of such a podcast series, would you please comment on the following aspects of the peer review:
(i) In light of your response to question #4, how many podcast episodes should a peer reviewer be asked to assess? Does your answer relate more to the number of hours listening or to your ability to answer fully the questions asked regarding the content and form of the podcast episodes and season?
I am not going to answer this in light of my response to #4 because that won't make sense. ;) Frankly, I felt like most of these questions were so meta as to be more of an external tenure review than a helpful review of the podcast. This is not to say that I don't value the peer review process in this case; I do! I just wish it had been even MORE open -- that I could have engaged with the podcast on an episode-by-episode basis. Five was plenty to get a strong sense of the work--similar to reading a sample chapter, I suppose, if you want to talk "hours". (I used to talk in hours when dealing with digital scholarly projects, but I don't anymore, primarily because that old Shakespeare guy I mentioned earlier said that the 3-minute video called "What IS Scholarship?" I showed the department must have only taken 3 minutes to produce. WTF?! So, no, it's not about hours but about intellectual heft.)
(ii) Are the questions, as formed, suitably thorough, in your view, to provide a podcaster and the Press editor with useful and detailed feedback to ensure the scholarly quality of a podcast series? Are there questions you think should be asked of peer reviewers of podcasts that were not? If so, what are they?
They are fine, if you wanted a traditional-ish peer review process that highlights the necessity of publishing a podcast as a peer-reviewed object in a scholarly press. But if you work from the assumption that the answer is always YES (i.e., Yes, this IS scholarly), then a lot of these questions become unnecessary and appear at too-meta a level. I suppose you need these questions right now, and that's OK. But I wonder what three feminist scholars would ask and say of this piece if you got them talking together. I even asked a friend of mine who is a feminist scholar if she would sit down with me and talk about the piece from a disciplinary perspective, and she said she'd love to, but then I ran out of time to actually do that. I guess the open peer review part of the process will get at that, though. And I do appreciate the opportunity to talk about the scholarly media aspects of this work--it's really, really great, tbh. The author has a natural or learned sense about how to host this medium and genre. So, perhaps those are the questions I would have asked instead: More specificity about the genre conventions of the podcast medium and whether the author was targeting them appropriately. (I think she does.)
But also let me say this: We don't have peer review heuristics at Kairos for exactly this reason. A podcast is one thing, but what happens when you have to review a different genre, in a different medium? Are you going to create rubrics for each and every different form of scholarship that comes across the transom? No (at least I hope not). And this is exactly why open peer review is so crucial: because everyone has their expertise, be it technical, mediational, scholarly/disciplinarily, and combinations of those. At Kairos, we refer to those as composing for and reviewing the *rhetoric, design, and code* of the piece, and we do so collaboratively, with no less than 5 peer reviewers working in dialog on each submission. With no rubric, because every piece is different.
(iii) In light of your response to question #4, if a podcast series intends to be open-ended, with no scheduled end to its production, how many rounds of peer review, and with what frequency, do you feel it would be necessary to ensure the ongoing quality of the podcast?
Yeahhhhh, that's why I asked that early on. ;) I think rounds of peer review is an awful idea. No one has the time for that, and the scholar has to be given the assumption, post-peer-review, that her work stands. And it will continue to stand into the future as long as there is not a new podcast, on a similar topic, that takes this one to task. (Because that's partly how the old regime of scholarly communication works.) I understand that this is not an assumption that most university presses want to give (up) easily, as a project continues to grow. But that's a problem with the way UPs have been set up as arbiters of The Scholarly Form. And if you publish one podcast series, will there be others? Is acquisitions involved in cultivating a list of feminist podcasts? (in which case the Acquisitions Editor will *know* about a future 'nother podcast that supersedes this one, and can discuss its sunsetting).
Secondly, I think the author needs to decide a sunset plan now. I've learned the hard way over the years that our goal of the never-ending humanities project is silly and unsustainable. She could say, "OK, I will publish five series and then re-evaluate. And here are my assessment criteria for that re-evaluation. If X benchmark isn't reached, then I close shop and archive everything on the UP site." etc. This sunset plan might relate directly to her own tenure case, if she wishes, specifically in relation to the intellectual heft she wants this podcast to contribute to that body of knowledge to be evaluated: Does she intend a long-form or short-form contribution? A series of long-form pieces? etc.
(iv) Does the open peer review process add value--editorial, production, other--to the podcast series? Could the same, or greater, value be provided to the podcaster and Press with a blind review?
Digital media scholarship can't be anonymously reviewed, period. (I've published an article on why, if you're interested.) It has to be reviewed collaboratively, which is a form of open review. I discuss this in more detail above. And once the piece is open on the UP website for further comment (plus, any comments the author has received as part of the podcasting delivery mechanisms, via Apple, the website, etc.), she might get even more info back on the specifics of production and editorial that were not addressed by this rubric. (But to which I have nothing to add as of now.)