My (re)proposal: A decolonial womanist podcast-as-inquiry

And then it finally hit me like a tonne of bricks. Nearly two years of deliberation about the potential of a podcast to conduct and disseminate my autoethnographic dissertation, and following a series of serendipitous events including the very recent release of this Maclean’s article, I finally mustered up the courage to ask my committee about the feasibility of such a thing.

Despite having one of three manuscripts already published, that, along with two others in outline form, would eventually culminate into my initially proposed 3-article dissertation, I just can’t shake the feeling that I need to be doing this research differently. I have been struggling to authentically honour the layers of my stories through writing. My natural and culturally derived gift of oral communication feels like the only true way forward. To adequately examine my life shaping experiences with harmful hidden curriculum embedded within Canadian conventional schooling, and the ways in which a deschooling praxis has shifted my ways of knowing and being as a human, mother, learner, educator, and researcher, this is my (re) proposal to do so as a podcast miniseries.

Welcome to my kitchen table, a place where I simultaneously ‘keep it real’ and engage critically, and invite you to do the same.  Photo credit: Milkmit (Creative Commons)

“how might we offer multiple ways for students to participate in schooling in general, thinking differently about the entire structure of education instead of attempting to increase access to narrow and contemporary practices of teaching and learning? “

Gleason & Franklin-Phipps

In proposing to complete my dissertation as a podcast series, I recognize the significance of developing sound rationale to substantiate my unconventional endeavour (especially as a graduate student within the Faculty of Education and the University of Victoria). In this blog post, I generate a series of questions that I will attempt to answer, as a way of sharing my thinking and process for seeing this podcast dissertation into creation.

What is my research about and why is it important?

Like countless others, rattled by the global events of 2020 that have continued in 2021, I am inspired by uncertainty and a rapidly changing environment to turn the gaze back onto myself as the subject of my dissertation research. Because, if I have learned nothing else during this time of global unrest, both with the inequality of experience within the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of the largest civil rights movement in history, it is that our stories are powerful and are vital to bringing injustice and the great division amongst humans to an end.

As Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie notes in her TEDx Talk, while stories can be used to “dispossess and to malign” they can also be used to “empower and to humanize”, and to heal. Storytelling (both sharing and receiving) have the potential to build and nurture relationships, and as educators, our stories inform our pedagogies, praxis and curriculum.

“people who live at the margins of categories provide an especially valuable starting point for exploring all the ways that identity can be deconstructed or reconstructed”

Mary Coombs

Humbly situated within the particularities of my hyphen identity experiences as a Canadian-Afro-Caribbean-Celtic PhD candidate from generational poverty, I am what the late Gloria Anzaldua refers to as a nepantlera, a Nahuatl word to describe a traveler between worlds defined by fixed binary codes such as race and class.

Though quite unusual for someone who comes from where/what I come from to partake in homeschooling for my kids, I discovered deschooling through my choice to abandon conventional education and take up an approach to home learning called unschooling/SDE. It was an easy enough departure for me as a former school disengaged youth aka “high school dropout”. And yet, despite my ease in saying “hell no” to conventional schooling for my kids, what I came to understand is that deschooling is fundamentally necessary for unschooling to be successful and proves itself useful for any strive towards educational transformation, really.

“[The hidden curriculum] posits a network of assumptions that, when internalized by students, establishes the boundaries of legitimacy”

Michael Apple

Ivan Illich (1970) first conceptualized deschooling to address the ways that conventional schooling institutionalizes learning and reproduces social inequalities by excluding and demeaning marginalized groups. Extending this conceptualization further, I see deschooling as a praxis or onto-epistemological process by which learning, and conventional schooling become disentangled so that learning, and education can be defined in the context of one’s self-identity. Put simply, as an active process of confronting the hidden curriculum or implicit values and norms embedded within the culture of schooling, deschooling is the excavation and replacement of any limiting beliefs instilled in us as children so that we can halt transmission of these beliefs to the next generation and reclaim our innate capacities to self-direct our own learning in purposeful, relational and meaningful ways. (Agile Learning Center, nd.)

In this research, I will be guided in part by autoethnography, a qualitative inquiry approach used to share my own (the researcher’s) stories while thinking deeply about their significance within the broader cultural contexts I am a part of. In doing so, I am guided by the following four questions:

1) In what ways can confronting the hidden curriculum of conventional schooling through a deschooling praxis be used to support the recognition and belonging of Canadian learners from low socioeconomic backgrounds (poverty-class roots)?

2) What barriers, challenges, successes and possibilities for confronting hidden curriculum through a deschooling praxis emerge from my stories that may further understanding of belongingness , and decolonial education for school disengaged and housing insecure youth as well as learners from generational poverty?

3) In what ways can addressing hidden curriculum in
conventional school culture generate different ways of knowing and being as educators, both from underrepresented and dominant groups?

4) How might a deschooling praxis work to rehumanize education?

Why do I feel a podcast is the ideal way for me to approach this research?

First and foremost, it is the very topic that I wish to explore within this educational podcast that inspires my wish to deviate from the traditional dissertation. The very essence of deschooling is to destabilize “schoolishness” ( Richards, 2021), or the rigid culture of schooling and it’s practices, values and norms. In stepping away from the traditional dissertation format, I am embodying a deschooling praxis and inviting my audience to experience it with me.

“There is no question that at present the university offers a unique combination of circumstances which allows some of its members to criticize the whole of society. It provides time, mobility, access to peers and information, and a certain impunity—privileges not equally available to other segments of the population. But the university provides this freedom only to those who have already been deeply intiated into the consumer society and into the need for some kind of obligatory public schooling”

Ivan Illich

As the very subject I am exploring within this research pertains to the hidden curriculum of conventional schooling and deschooling as a praxis, it could be no more fitting that I step away from the conventions of dissertation formatting and create this podcast-as-inquiry. The hidden curriculum of schooling upholds a monoculture of knowing-being-doing by embedding valuation on literacy over orality, essentially silencing cultural capital that is embodied within poverty class oral culture. Comma placement, and run-on sentences do not identify themselves in conversation and storytelling ways of communication, as they do in written prose. Instead, breath, flow, connection and clarity can be the emphasis when using intimate oral style of sharing allowed through podcasting.

I am a first generation postsecondary student from generational poverty, and as such, I have always felt more confident to articulate my thoughts orally. And, this reliance on the gift of the gab is no secret to anyone who knows me. In my research, I’ve come to learn that folks from poverty are thought to be an oral culture, in contrast to middle class and above, who are known as being a print culture. (Ong, 2013; Beegle, 2007) The distinction between these two forms of communication as a way of distinguishing between social class cultures, has significant implications for my research and rationale for using podcast-as-inquiry.

“in the case of learning information; to acquire knowledge in oral culture is to become empathetic and close to it, while in so-called literate culture, the act of writing causes a separation, a distancing between the knower and the known”

Carol Roche

According to Ong (2013), orality is relational and for people who have poverty-class origins, this means that we learn together primarily through conversation and stories. I can attest to the truth of these findings, as I rely heavily on talking to my mom or sisters about the things that I learn via academic discourse, to work through concepts using everyday talk.

It is true that I have become bilingual, gaining efficacy in middle-class print culture, as Donna Beegle (2007) describes it, however, I still struggle to find my authentic voice through academic writing which is essentially my secondary form of cultural communication. Also, in widening access to scholarship, podcast-as-inquiry will enable my mom, sisters, husband and even children to listen to and digest ideas that would normally be inaccessible to them in academic journal form.

Furthermore, my desire to create a podcast series for my dissertation is significantly influenced by a womanist worldview, that I will briefly discuss now and then flesh out in more detail in the next question addressing theoretical contributions.
One primary way to characterize womanism is it’s association with the vernacular, or in other words, “the everyday—everyday people and everyday life” (Phillips, 2006, xxiv). The spirit of womanism is grassroots, and strives to highlight what Phillips (2006) describes as a:

unifying reality that all people have everyday lives…what links people, and thus provides a basis for the harmonization and coordination of difference, are common human concerns—food, shelter, relationships, communication, body and health, love, life, death and contemplations of the transcendental, to name just a few examples.(xxi)

In my sense if things, womanism has a potentially symbiotic relationship with podcasting as a way of sharing stories, in that podcasts span across all genres and aspects of life from fiction to non-fiction, targeting audiences from all walks of life. Thus, when it comes to scholarly research, the nature of storytelling and conversation offers accessible and jargon-free knowledge dissemination and everyday inquiry.  As a pedagogical tool, learners have been found to benefit, but most importantly, in the case of my proposal, original scholarship. In response to the question of whether or not a pilot podcast for WLU press was in fact an object of research, peer reviewer and Editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, Cheryl E. Ball said this:

It is–> it makes all the rhetorical moves of a piece of scholarship: Adding new and necessary knowledge to the field…expanding what counts as “the field”… 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).

“to recognize, claim, and utilize the power of the word is a basic womanist social change modality. Words carry conceptual content as well as feeling content, and thus are extensions of the energy of the speaker. Words also carry the energy of histories”

Layli Phillips

Womanists acknowledge the power of the word, understanding that dialogue carries the ability to be a vital force of transformation and transmutation. Womanism relies on a self-evaluative criteria for analysis that is holistic, spiritual and affective, and as such, establishing relationships through dialogue is essential.

My proposal, then, is an invitation to take risks that haven’t been taken before. To shift the culture of education by really asking the question of what its purpose is, if not to allow learners to experiment on their own terms and in the cultural context of their own self-identities.

What conceptual and/or theoretical contribution will this podcast make to both educational and equity studies, as well as qualitative inquiry?

On theory…

From a decolonial womanist knowing-doing-being, the idea of creating/performing/conducting my research in a podcast format feels like a deeply intuitive and spiritually guided move. Despite its name, womanism, in contrast to feminism, does not essentialize or privilege gender or sexism and instead, “elevates all forms of oppression, whether they are based on social-address categories like gender, race, or class, to level of equal concern and action” (Phillips, 2006, xx). Moreover, womanists see that social and ecological change is undoubtedly supported by spirituality (not religion per se) which embraces a metaphysically aware approach to transformation. In this way, I feel that podcast-as-inquiry will allow me to honour my ancestral lineages and wisdoms that I have inherited. The gifts of speaking and steadfastness, that, despite attempts of erasure through oppressive patriarchal, colonial and white supremacist conditions will shine through me, articulated in the ways of orality as in those of my foremothers and sisters. Women who, unlike me, did not have the chance to develop middle class print culture bilingualism.

Worshipping the written word is a colonial byproduct that silences diverse knowledges, and perpetuates inequity. From my experience, deschooling praxis provides a lens to look at learning and education in a holistic way in order to address this exclusion of underrepresented knowledge makers.

It is worth mentioning that the concept of decoloniality and decolonization are often understood differently by different people. In my sense of the term, I am supported by Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures’ definition that emphasizes:

facing humanity’s wrongs, our own complicities in harm, and the likelihood of social and ecological collapse in our lifetime, while learning to walk a tightrope between naïve hope and desperate hopelessness, with honesty, humility, humor and hyper-self-reflexivity.

I write this a reminder to myself as I embark on this research endeavour, to avoid the trap of polarization or to portray schooling or colonialism as a sort of boogeyman to be hunted or feared. It is not my intention to offer deschooling praxis as a one-size-fits all solution to the inequity that arises from social class discrimination and other social-identity-based divisions in education, but rather to destabilize the presumed inevitability of these systemic barriers. Drawing attention to how we might think differently across typical boundary-producing hegemonic norms and structures of education, both within and outside of institutions.

On Methodology…

“the kitchen table is an informal, space where all are welcome and all can participate…at the table, people can come and go, agree or disagree, take turns talking or speak all at once, and laugh, shout, complain, or counsel—even be present in silence. It is a space where the language is accessible and the ambience casual. At the kitchen table, people share the truths of their lives on equal footing and learn through face-to-face conversation”

Layli Phillips

I think of this podcast-as-inquiry as an invitation to my kitchen table. (Smith, 1989; Phillips, 2006; A metaphor embraced by many women of colour that, in my sense of things, can be extended to the vernacular oral culture inherent to low-SES communities that I am also a part of.

Autoethnography, as previously mentioned, is a type of qualitative inquiry that draws upon the researcher’s personal experiences as primary data, by:

(1) Purposefully commenting on/critiquing of cultural practices,
(2) making contributions to existing research,
(3) embracing vulnerability with purpose, and
(4) creating a reciprocal relationship with audiences in order to compel a response.
(Holman-Jones, Adams & Ellis, 2013, p.22).

While autoethnography has multiple interpretations, Denzin (1997) and Ellis and Bochner (2000) describe autoethnography as a turning of the ethnographic gaze inward to one’s self as the subject while maintaining the outward gaze of ethnographic inquiry, observing the context and culture in which the experiences are taking place. Building on an earlier definition offered by Chang (2013; 2008), who describes autoethnography as a research method that utilizes the “researcher’s personal experience…to expand the understanding of social phenomena” (p.108), Boylorn and Orbe (2016) expand further, defining autoethnography as “cultural analysis through personal narrative,” encouraging a “critical lens, alongside an introspective and outward one, to make sense of who we are in the context of our cultural communities” (p.17). Chang (2008) asserts that autoethnography must be autobiographical in its content form while remaining ethnographic in its methodological form.

Autoethnography also supports a womanist worldview that embraces multiple ways of presenting, interpreting, and generating knowledge that will be useful for me in my aims towards generating different thinking about the entire structure of education while attending to the nuanced complexities of my lived experiences with poverty, hidden curriculum of schooling, youth school disengagement and deschooling.

As the stories I wish to share include lived experiences that have been typically excluded from academic scholarship, autoethnography affords visibility to historically underrepresented communities such as the cultural experiences of poverty and mixed black/white ancestry in Canada that I will explore.

Since autoethnography requires the power of telling stories as a way of knowing, relating, and sharing, it aligns well with the narrative nature of womanist logic whereby “context is as important as, if not more important than syllogistic form” (Maparyan, 2011, p. 41; Holman-Jones et al, 2013). Thinking decolonially, Pathak (2013) explains that an autoethnographic approach to research has the potential to disrupt the colonial intellectual training that Western scholars have received by interrogating our own knowledge generation processes to advance the dismantling of supremacist dominance and oppressive conditions that are problematically reinforced within typical neoliberal academic discourse and inquiry.

Podcast-as-inquiry: An emergent qualitative method

In addition to a wide range of interpretations, autoethnography also takes on various forms including, poetry, journals, essays, fiction AND NOW… a podcast series!

“when researchers narrate lived experiences within the act of conversation, an emergent mode of communication, stories, can develop organically, take unexpected turns, and assume intriguing contours in the back-and-forth movement between participants”

Krammer & Manigardi

Duoethnography, an extension of autoethnography, that captures the conversations between two or more people, understands dialogue to be form of expression used by people to establish both individuality and connection by permitting as it:

permits negotiation, reveals standpoint, realizes existential equality, and shapes social reality. Dialogue is the locale where both tension and connection can be present simultaneously; it is the site for both struggle and love. (Phillips, 2006, xxvii)

Typically, autoethnography and duoethnography have been carried out primarily writing, however, the data collection process has often necessarily included audio recording. In my move towards a podcast-as-inquiry, I am proposing that the in addition to analyzing data prior to recording the podcast, it is also possible to simultaneously gather field data and analysis through conversations that happen within a podcast interview.

How do I plan to carry out this podcast-as-inquiry?

The most significant learning curve for this undertaking will be in the sound production aspect of this podcast-as-inquiry. While I have never produced a podcast before, there are an abundance of resources created by both the Amplify Podcast Network and UBC Public Humanities Hub, offering step-by-step guidance from ideation to creation of a podcast series. Additionally, I attended a recent workshop on podcast basics, hosted by a media studies professor at VIU and he has offered to have a one-on-one session with me to go over some of the sound production aspects of things. I have purchased a “Blue Yeti” microphone as well as a subscription to Hindenburg Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), both of which are industry standards for podcast creation.

Falling within the genre of education, this podcast-as-inquiry will use two common podcasting formats.  First, the solo/monologue will enable me to dive into deschooling as a praxis and weave pieces of my own stories throughout. For the monologue episodes I will have scripts written. The second format I will use is educational conversations with a few predetermined interview question prompts to guide the discussion. In keeping with the kitchen table metaphor, both formats will be an intentionally relaxed style that invites the experience of “keeping it real”. Further, because there is little research on the benefits of deschooling for learners from poverty in Canada due to very limited access, I will be using personal anecdotes to generate questions for in the field experts in de/unschooling.

Upon approval of my committee, here is a tentative list of episodes for this production:

1) Weaving uncommon threads: On womanism, autoethnography, oral culture vs. print culture, and confronting the hidden curriculum through deschooling as the foundations of this research – Solo/monologue
2) Healing the schooled girl within: Towards a Deschooled Currere – Solo+ interviews
3) Different Name, Different Game: Deschooling to address youth school disengagement and housing insecurity  – Solo + interviews
4) Deschooling Decolonization: Culture over Content – Solo + interviews
5) Hugging the elephants in the room: Deschooling the Dissertation Solo + Interviews
6) Gathering the strands: Conclusion/ Final thoughts – Solo/monologue

The podcast series will be housed on this website, and each episode will be accompanied by show notes and full transcription of the discussions.

How might my podcast dissertation undergo peer review/ evaluation?

Both the BC Studies Journal and WLU Press have begun to flesh out the peer review process for scholarly podcasts. Both have made available the types of questions to consider when engaging with an academic podcast.

In a panel discussion hosted by UBC Humanities Hub called, Podcasting the Dissertation, Dr. Anna Williams, alongside her Supervisor Dr. Judith Pascoe, discusses her experience creating a podcast series as her dissertation, not simply as a part of a larger piece. At approximately, 48:00, a question is asked by one of the attendees regarding supervisor/committee feeling a sense of lacking expertise for an alternative dissertation format such as podcasting, and how the revision process is conducted. Because revision for podcasting is very difficult post-production, Anna shares that she wrote scripts for each episode that were used in the revision process, however, at approximately, 51:43 you will hear that Judith noted that she did not recall relying on the written form for revision. Further, she was very adamant that it is unreasonable to expect someone who is carrying out an experimental format to produce both the creation as well as a written 200-or so paged traditional monograph. Dr. Pascoe, reiterates this sentiment again during the discussion which can be found around 1:05:57. Dr. Williams further clarified by saying, that for this type of project it simply makes sense to determine appropriate points in the production cycle to receive feedback and that while script revision made sense for her, it is not necessary for other styles of podcasting.

While this endeavour feels like the only authentic way forward, it is a large undertaking and brings a steep learning curve for me as someone who has been relying on conventional academic writing for the entire duration of my academic career. Perhaps, this is yet one final piece of motivation for creating this podcast series. To reclaim the creativity that I feel has disappeared since I was a young school(ed) girl. The technical aspects of producing will be a definite challenge, but I am willing to take the plunge to honour my strength in orality and my intuition, that this is the right path for me.


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