In this episode, we talk to Ideas on Fire CEO Cathy Hannabach about podcasting design as a tool for creating more just worlds.
Ideas on Fire: https://ideasonfire.net/
Imagine Otherwise Podcast: https://ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast/
The podcast introductory segment is composed to evoke friction. It begins with sounds of a wheelchair rhythmically banging down metal steps, the putter of an elevator arriving at a person’s level, and an elevator voice saying “Floor two, Floor three.” Voices begin to define Contra*. Layered voices say “Contra is friction…Contra is…Contra is nuanced…Contra is transgressive…Contra is good trouble…Contra is collaborative…Contra is a podcast!…Contra is a space for thinking about design critically…Contra is subversive…Contra is texture…”
An electric guitar plays a single note to blend out the sound.
The rhythmic beat of an electronic drum begins and fades into the podcast introduction.
Credit: Kevin Gotkin
Music excerpt: “Tumbling Lights” by The Acid
Welcome to Contra*: the podcast about disability, design justice, and the lifeworld. This show is about the politics of accessible and critical design—broadly conceived—and how accessibility can be more than just functional or assistive. It can be conceptual, artful, and world-changing.
I’m your host, Aimi Hamraie . I am a professor at Vanderbilt University, a designer and design researcher, and the director of the Critical Design Lab, a multi-institution collaborative focused on disability, technology, and critical theory. Members of the lab collaborate on a number of projects focused on hacking ableism, speaking back to inaccessible public infrastructures, and redesigning the methods of participatory design—all using a disability culture framework. This podcast provides a window into the kinds of discussions we have within the lab, as well as the conversations we are interested in putting into motion. So in coming episodes, you’ll also hear from myself and the other designers and researchers in the lab, and we encourage you to get in touch with us via our website, www.mapping-access.com or on Twitter at @criticaldesignl
In Episode six, we begin a two-part series on critical design and accessibility within or adjacent to academia. In this first episode, I speak to Cathy Hannabach, host of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, about how design considerations (particularly regarding accessibility) come into play with the creation of podcasts. This conversation also takes us to broader themes of representation and voice, norms within the podcasting field, and how podcasting can build on academic work while also allowing new conversations.
Aimi: This is Aimi Hamraie. I'm here today to talk to Cathy Hannabach, CEO of Ideas on Fire and host of the Imagine Otherwise podcast. Cathy is a PhD in cultural studies from UC Davies, and an independent scholar, an author of two books, which are Blood Cultures: Medicine, Media, and Militarisms, that came out in 2015, and Book Marketing for Academics, which came out in 2016. I met with Cathy through the Cultural Studies Association Conference this year, where she organized some really great author-meets-critics panels with Sami Schalk, who's the author of Bodyminds Reimagined, Heath Fogg Davis, the author of Beyond Trans, and myself.
Aimi: At the conference, she did this really interesting thing which was that she recorded our sessions for her podcast, Imagine Otherwise, which she then published along with materials such as transcripts, bullet points of key ideas, and links for further reading. While participating in this process with Cathy, I was really struck with all the ways she was thinking about accessibility, and also, about how creatively and persuasively she has designed ways of participating in and relating to academia that go far beyond our typical modes of production, which in our case, is usually writing. Welcome, Cathy.
Cathy: Thanks for having me.
Aimi: I thought, to start, we could just briefly tell our listeners a little bit about Ideas on Fire and how it came to be, and how the Imagine Otherwise podcast is part of that.
Cathy: Sure. I started Ideas on Fire when I was in graduate school, actually. I did not think of it in terms of what it has become at all. I thought of it as the side project that wasn't going to be my career or anything. It just was a chance for me to work with authors on projects, and I can talk a little bit about the trajectory of that since it's changed quite a bit. Ideas on Fire is academic editing and consulting agency, and we work specifically with progressive interdisciplinary academics to help them write and publish amazing texts, enliven public conversations, get involved in public scholarships and get their critical voices out there, and ultimately to create more just worlds.
Cathy: A lot of what we do is editing and indexing work on scholarly books and other kinds of manuscripts, journal articles and the like, but we also do a lot of cultural production in the form of the podcast, which I know we're going to talk a little bit more about extensively, as well as we have a blog that's quite extensive. We also do regular webinars, and I'm always kind of interested in, and our team is interested in how academic ideas alone aren't enough, but thinking instead about how those ideas connect with different communities, and how to make them tools that people and individuals, communities, groups can take up and put to work in specific ways.
Aimi: That's so interesting. Something that really strikes me about this is that there are many, of course, academic editing businesses and also services that are geared more towards academic productivity and things like that, but yours is actually very politicized. I'm so interested in all the material parts of that and how you conceive of that whole assemblage of things. I'm wondering, do you consider yourself as a designer?
Cathy: Not until you asked that question. I don't come from the discipline of design. I've never been employed as designer, or I have never studied design in the traditional sense, in that sense, I'd have to say, definitely not. A lot of my day-to-day work does involved design practices in a variety of ways, and it's actually something that I had really enjoyed moving from academia into my work with Ideas on Fire is I got to do a lot more of that.
Cathy: Whether that's graphic design, whether that's website design and development, whether that's audio design with podcast, I do a lot of that on a daily business much more than I did when I was within academia, and it's been really exciting. While I would probably not identify as a designer because I think actual designers would get mad at me for claiming that, I do, do a lot of design in various ways through my work.
Aimi: Yeah, that makes sense. Something we've been talking about a lot in the Critical Design Lab is all of the ways that academic work is designed but isn't acknowledged in those terms. Even just designing syllabi, or designing classroom, someone threw out this idea the other day that syllabi are like mixed tapes, and Kevin Gotkin, who is in the Critical Design Lab, is doing all this social justice and accessible DJing practice, so we were thinking about, actually, we're doing this all the time. It's just not formalized, and so we're not always thinking about applying theories of design to it and what would happen if we did.
Aimi: In the context of what you've been doing, I'm really interested in the podcast and how it's very multi-modal. When you were working on producing the episode that I was on, you had all these materials that you sent on the front-end and when it was finished. I wonder if you could just walk us through that a little bit, thinking about there's this idea in design theory of critical design, so design that makes us think differently about something. What is a kind of, if there is a regular, or typical podcast? What is that like, and how is what you're doing ... Doing something different and thematically linked to the content of the podcast?
Cathy: We've done, I think, three many series at this point over the course of two years. In that sense, you got a slightly different experience then, then episodes that are produced outside of the miniseries mode. Traditionally, I work for each podcast episode is our team does a lot of research on potential guests. We're looking for ... Imagine Otherwise is a podcast that highlights peoples in projects that bridge our activism and academia in the service of sial justice. That alone gives us a super sharp focus.
Cathy: There are many, many fantastically smart academics, but they don't necessarily have an art focus in any way, or they don't do creative production work in any way. They wouldn't be a great fit for it, or there's a lot of fantastic activist projects who do really fantastic activist projects that we are certainly aligned with and support, but maybe they don't have connection to teaching or to writing, they use some other format.
Cathy: Our focus for the podcast itself helps us figure out who would be a potentially great guest for that. Then from there, we start to research a little bit more about those folks. We're looking at what projects are they working on now. Have they released anything recently that we could help promote? Since the podcast has a fairly long production schedule, we're always thinking about timing in that sense. When will the episode be released? Is there a new projects even going to be done by then. If so, great. If not, would they be bitter for a future episode with those kinds of things?
Cathy: We do some research on guests. We find who would be a good guest. I email them and say, "Hey, I think your work is really awesome. I host this podcast. Would you be interested in being a future guest on an episode?" Hopefully, they say yes. Most people say yes. Not everybody, but most people say yes, and then we start scheduling out when will the interview happen. We do all of our interviews on Skype, and we record the audio that way. We also look at when will the episode be released, and then there are 6 million steps in between that, and those are internal steps. The guest usually has absolutely no idea because they don't need to care about this background stuff.
Cathy: For other fellow process nerds like myself, I'm happy to talk through that, if you're interested. We have a very elaborate Asana system, which is our project management system, all of that we do recording. I write up interview questions that fit the projects that they are currently working on, or recent projects that they've been excited about. Then after the interview, we start the post-production process. That involves editing the episode. I do the editing for most of the episodes.
Cathy: One of our team members, Christopher Persaud is learning how to do audio editing. He currently writes all of our show notes, which is why they're so fantastic. He's also learning how to do the audio editing, so hopefully, in the future, I'll be able to share some of that work with him. We edit the episode together. We create promotional material. I'm the one that does all the graphic design, the visual design for that. We create social media mages so people can share them with their networks.
Cathy: We design the show notes on the website visually, as well as Chris writes all those. I go in and I edit all those. We schedule our social media post and promotional stuff. I'm also in contact with the guest about when their episode will be released, and as you pointed out, I send them all of that promotional material so that they can use it in whatever ways useful for their networks.
Aimi: Yeah. Great. Thank you for taking us through all of that. It's really interesting being a part of the process, and then looking at all of that content from the side of a recipient of promotional materials versus looking at it on the website, and both of them are just so clear and pedagogical in really different ways. When I got those materials from you, and then I was sharing the episode with other people, I was thinking a lot about, this is so useful for use in the classroom. This is so useful for sending to colleagues to explain, this is the kind of thing that digital humanity is where it can be and that kind of thing. I wonder, have you gotten any feedback about the pedagogical qualities of the podcast?
Cathy: Yeah. I mean, it's probably the former professor in me, but I'm always thinking about that question of pedagogy, whether that's teaching particular episode or somebody's work in a classroom, but also teaching it to whoever it is that you want to share an episode or somebody's fantastic work with. Right? I'm always thinking about how to frame different projects or different ideas in a way that lets different groups of people and diverse groups of people access them.
Cathy: For instance, an episode about our most recently, I don't know when this episode is going to be released, but when we're recording this, our most recent episode featured Gayatri Gopinath, who's a queer diaspora studies scholar. She's talking about her new book about visual culture. Folks would be interested in my episode who come from a visual culture, visual studies background. Folks would be interested who work in queer of color critiques, and she's a very big name in the field, diaspora studies, people come podcasting and general.
Cathy: People are going to come from a variety of different fields, and it's my job as, maybe, the designer to give them entry points into it. We do that in the way that we describe the episodes. What is it about? What topics does it address? Those kind of key takeaways. We have a large number of quotes, pull-quotes from each episode, which also helps with promotion and social media sharing and all that kind of stuff, as well as links because a lot of folks have talked about teaching Imagine Otherwise podcast episodes, which I highly encourage, in the classroom.
Cathy: Of course, students are going to come with questions and need to connect that episode to whatever it is that they're studying in whatever topic class that they're enrolled in. We try to do ... I hope we do a good job of including links to topics or ideas or people or projects or books that we discussed because not everyone is going to be familiar with those, but also some of them that you might already be familiar with, you can learn something through following the link down the rabbit hole of the internet.
Aimi: Yeah, awesome. Do you have any other favorite podcast that you listen to?
Cathy: Ooh, I love podcast, yes. I'm a big fan of 99% Invisible, which is about design and about the hidden design that shapes our lives in ways we don't necessarily think of. I confess I have studied that podcast quite a bit and use it to shape how I approach Imagine Otherwise for sure. Other ones, I'm a big fan of The Sporkful, which is about food. It's an interview-based podcast, but it's more conversational, which is kind of fun. It uses food as a prism to get a broader political, or social, or cultural issues. That's super fun.
Cathy: The Allusionist because I'm a word nerd. That's about words, and their histories, and their etymology, and their movement over time, and the weird ways that we have used language as a species. Let's see. What other ones am I a big fan of? Civics 101, More Perfect, which is about the Supreme Court because I have a, I don't know, lapsing interest or longtime interest, I guess, in constitutional history for some weird reason. It has nothing to do with anything I work on. That's about the Supreme Court, which is kind of fun. I'm trying to picture my podcast app right now.
Cathy: Oh, I just got into ... Well, it's not actually a new podcast, but it's new to me, Alice Isn't Dead, which is a narrative storytelling podcast, so it's one single story over the course of, I think they're on season three, two or three, which is kind of creepy and haunting and fun. It's actually my go-to gym podcast, which might seem weird, but I enjoy it.
Aimi: I love that. I'm curious to hear your thoughts about the genre of academic podcast because very often ... My list is similar to yours, and that most of them are things that of interest and entertainment, and then there's this genre of podcast about academic books or various academic concepts that blurs some of those lines a little bit. I've been just thinking a lot about the kind of work that podcast do.
Aimi: On the one hand, pedagogically, they're really useful for capturing these conversations that we have all the time and that sort of thing, and then they also do important political work, I think, and yours is definitely such a good example of that, kind of like helping us have some hope in this political moment, I think, is really important. I wonder if you have any thoughts about that. What's important about academic podcast right now? What are they doing? What can they do that they're not currently doing?
Cathy: Yeah. Most people don't know that podcasting is much older than they have heard of it. it originated in the early 2000s, but it really has taken off exponentially in the past decade or so. That's usually when people think of podcasting emerging, and it has in terms of its public prominence, right, its mainstream prominence. Academics have been involved since the very beginning to differing degrees and in different ways.
Cathy: I think a lot of the academic podcast these days are focused on books, as you said, so either reviewing, host either review books that they did not themselves write, so they're reviewing other people's scholarship that recently came out or that made a splash in some way or that they're interested in, or they're interview-based. They interview authors of texts or new projects or things like that. There are different reasons for interested in starting a podcast is figuring out the genre or the format that fits the questions you want to ask and the argument that you want to make in the exact same way that you structure a written text. Right?
Cathy: You structure a text that let you structure a text that let it away, that lets you make the point that you want to make, and not all structures let you get at the same kind of questions. Not all methodologies let you get at the same kind of research questions. It's a similar kind of thing, so figuring out the genre that best fits what you want to say. I think some have done that better than others, and certainly, different academic podcast, because of their different areas of focus, are interested in reaching different audiences.
Cathy: Most academic podcast, I would say, not all, but most of them are really just marketed to academics, and really just really marketed to academics in that specific fields, since so many of them are field specific. You have really fantastic early American history podcast, or you have really fantastic podcast about a specific academic field that are really just designed for those academics, which is totally fine, and those can be really useful for that audience.
Cathy: When I was building Ideas on Fire, and when I was building Imagine Otherwise, I was interested in something very different. I come from an interdisciplinary background. I come from women and gender studies and cultural studies. These are academic fields that have historically always been embedded in political and social movements. We're not adopting scholarship to real-world concerns. We came out of them. That emphasis on politics and activism and creativity and forming relationships with people who are not scholars, people who are not academics, people outside the university has been what we've always done.
Cathy: We often don't realize how unusual that is until we come into contact with people from the disciplines. Those of us coming from the inter-disciplines are completely used to that, and we need to claim it. When I was putting together Imagine Otherwise, what I really wanted to do was highlight both individuals but also specific kinds collaborations and projects that bridge those spaces. That's why not every academic, not every fantastic academic is a good fit to be a guest on our podcast.
Cathy: What we're really looking at projects and individuals whose work spans or brings together, or I'd like to say, braids together art or creativity with intellectual inquiry or academia and social justice activism. It's not something I see a lot of academic podcast doing, which is not to say they have to, but I think I was interested in doing something a little different.
Aimi: Yeah, that's a really helpful point too about interdisciplinary work and feminist work, and I have a similar scholarly background and training background too. My PhD is women's, gender and sexuality studies, and I was kind of trained in this cultural studies mode. The material practices that that brings then are really different than traditional historical mode, or literary theory mode, and that's not to say that there is anything wrong with those disciplinary practices, but I feel like the sort of work that we do demands other material manifestation and kind of happens in the world outside of academia with the same level of theoretical rigor through other material forms too.
Aimi: It's so interesting to have a podcast that's about bridging those things, and we're kind of trying to do a similar thing with this podcast, just locate those conversations that have been happening, both within academia, and kind of like at some of the blurred boundaries around it and say, "Okay, what are our methods, and what are our key concepts, and how are we working with all of these things?"
Aimi: It's really exciting and fun to locate a kind of field of practice around this too, and to say, "It's not just like people reinventing the wheel or doing this one novel thing." This is actually what feminist scholarship and cultural studies or critical media or any of those things can look like, so that's super awesome. Can you say a little bit about the podcast people or their podcast who you hang out with? What are some to look out for and make sure to listen to?
Cathy: One of my favorite podcasting communities is called she podcast, which is a women and non-binary podcasting community. They have a really robust Facebook community. There's also a website. It's also a podcast itself, so you can search in whatever podcast app you use for She Podcasts, and it's really supportive. It's really educational. It's very much a space where you can ask, "Hey, I'm trying to do this thing. I don't know anything about it. Does anyone else," or "I'm looking into this new podcast hosting company that just popped up yesterday. Has anyone any experience with them," or "I'm trying to figure out this weird audio thing that I'm having trouble with, does anyone have any advice, or have you run into something similar.
Cathy: Not all podcast communities, because I'm part of several of them, not all of them encourage that kind of sharing skills and showing of information. The podcasting communities that women have formed, that queers have formed, that people have formed, those types of questions, and that type of support and mutual project boosting is definitely a part of them. That is slightly different than some of the more mainstream podcasting communities.
Aimi: That's super interesting, and it reminds me of the kind of emerging form of the feminist maker space as also a place where I like people can go and ask questions and not be expected to have certain types of technological expertise that are not widely available or to have a space that is not competitive around these kinds of things. It's really interesting to think about podcasting communities as kind of a virtual form of feminist maker space too.
Aimi: Cool. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
Cathy: Do you want me to talk a little bit about voice?
Aimi: Sure. What do you mean by that?
Cathy: There are a lot of conversations in podcasting communities and in radio communities because there's a lot of overlap between those, about the sounds of voices, and whose voices should be heard politically, but also whose voices should be heard literally, whose voices should be in your earphone, whose voices should be on the airwaves, whose voices matter. Those of us who come interdisciplinary activist-based fields, we're used to thinking of voice in terms of political participation and whose lives and concerns are considered to matter.
Cathy: In the audio field, they're literally talking about voice, like what kinds sounds go in your ears? There's a lot of controversy about which kinds of voices are assumes to sound professional, which kinds of voices all right assumed to sound soothing, which kinds of voices are assumed to sound grating, which kinds of voices are airworthy. Feminist podcasters have long pushed back up against this, up against the assumptions that women's voices are not as pleasing to hear. Women's voices are grating, all of those kinds of utterly stupid debates about vocal fry, all of those stupid debates about upspeak, where basically women are thought to speak differently because they're women.
Cathy: People of color podcasters have pointed out that voice is heavily racialized, whose voice sounds professional comes out of these histories of colonialism and racism, and so I think within the more progressive, for lack of a better words, marginalized podcasting communities, we're having this really fantastic conversations. We think all of that is utter bullshit, but the larger podcasting community, I think, does have as much interest in challenging some of those things, or if they do, it's from a very, you teach us about this thing rather than we could just go learn.
Aimi: That's really interesting. I did just listen to an episode of Code Switch. That was kind of about a similar theme.
Cathy: Yeah. Yeah. No, they talk about that a lot.
Aimi: Yeah. There is someone who wanted to be ... I can't remember if it was TV or radio, but he was black, and he was told that he had to get the Midwestern accent, and so they did all this historical research into where does that accent come from. It comes from this one place in Ohio where there is this linguist. He said this is the standard American accent. Yeah, and it's very ... It's so interesting to hear you say that in the community there are not critical conversations about this-
Cathy: There's at least not as many of them as I think a lot of us would like to hear.
Aimi: Yeah, because I think for the layperson, the fantasy of the podcast is that anyone can make one. You don't have to be a big radio personality or whatever.
Cathy: I have a lot to already about that.
Aimi: Yeah, totally, and I think, for me, as someone who just had an interest in the kind of form of the podcast, but no technical expertise, and then I'm kind of learning as I go, and we have people in the Lab who are working on it also, who do have more official training. There are all of these things that, suddenly, I had to think about that were, "What do I want my voice to sound like to other people, and am I doing the upspeak thing?" Usually, I would not care about that at all because I think that sexist, but here's this new thing. It's been very much part of the design and production process of all of this too, and I kind of just as a noise experiment or something, I just want to create podcast where people do all the wrong things, and somehow, people still listen and are okay with it.
Cathy: That could be are fun.
Aimi: Yeah. Yeah, so that would be a fun thing to think about. Maybe it's an art project we could work on together.
Cathy: Maybe get some sound designers in there. Yeah.
Cathy: That's really cool.
Aimi: Yeah, Kevin could actually do a whole DJ set with-
Cathy: Oh, yes.
Cathy: Okay, new project.
Aimi: Yeah, totally. Kevin, you're listening to this right now, so I hope you like this idea. Yeah, and that's such a good example too of the kind of the sort of thing that feminist media scholars talk about around the presumed disembodiment of digital material, and yet it is so material, and it just so ... It's all these habituated things that suddenly, we're being called to learn about how he speak and how we sound to other people, and also just norms around what a voice even is. I've never heard a podcast where a nonspeaking disabled person was using assistive technology to voice, but that's the thing that people do in real life. There are all of these actual material practices that could be brought in to unsettle the typical podcast form.
Cathy: Absolutely. I mean, one of the big draws or one of the big ways that podcasting gets pitched by podcasters is the intimacy of voice. It's one of the reasons why this medium is interesting. It's what part of what makes the medium specific and different than film or TV or blogging, or any of the other mediums that exist in the world. It's the fact that somebody's voice is in your ear. Right? Most people listen to podcast with headphones of some sort, and they're usually moving their body through space in some form or another. There's a whole host of research on how people listen to podcast, and where they listen to them, and what they're doing while they're there.
Cathy: Some of that's interesting, and some of it is not, but it is about this kind of somebody's voice is in your ear. It's physically very close to you, even though, obviously, they're not physically close to you. There's something to pay attention to there. A lot of that conversation in whiter male or more masculine focused podcasting spaces is about making that as smooth and seamless as possible and then casting a voice that enables that kind of smoothness. I know one of the things, one of the really smart things that you talked in your author-meets-critic session, and that is part of the Imagine Otherwise podcast episode that you did was you talked about smoothness in terms of ideology and in terms of politics.
Cathy: The desire for smoothness, for not rocking the boat, for making things easy is ideological. You were particularly looking at activist, who said, "Screw smoothness. Let's make things rough. Let's make us feel the texture of power," and voice is one way of that you can do that. It's also question questions od hose voice do you find soothing. It's not going to whose voice find soothing, right, or who is somebody else?"
Cathy: If white dudes are saying, "White dud voices make them feel good," that's totally fine, but that's not who makes me feel good. That's not what I find as a soothing voice. Thinking about voice, both in terms of political representation, but also in terms of literal sound, has these power dynamics and ideologies ...Could be, I think, talked about more interestingly, and covered more interestingly than it currently is.
Aimi: Yeah, those are really great connections. I hope we can keep talking about this going forward too because I feel like there are clearly parallel conversations that are happening in the podcasting world, but some of these other kind of activist design context. Especially the texture thing, I think, is really a productive place to kind of mine further. Is that something that ... I imagine otherwise you've played with the textures of the sounds or voice.
Cathy: Informally or lightly, I'd say. I haven't created a specific episode. I do most of the audio editing for the episodes. I do have to stitch people's words together. I also have to cut it down for length for sure, to make it into a palatable size of an episode, and to also think about how to make people's ideas, the things that they're saying about their projects, or their book, their ideas or whatever, how to make them comprehensible to a listening audience who might not already know who this person is. They might be familiar with their ideas. They might not be familiar with these concepts or this person's book or film or whatever it is.
Cathy: Those are certainly questions that I'm thinking about, particularly when it comes to editing, the literal audio editing of people's speech patterns. I don't edit heavily in the sense of I'm not changing anybody's speech patterns, but humans speak differently than we write, and those of us who are academics, we tend to write extremely well because we have to. We've learned how to do that, and so we tend to, most us, write pretty smoothly, but we don't necessarily speak very smoothly. Different scholars have very different abilities to speak in a way that is coherent, and that's okay because that's not our main ... that's not academic's main form of communication, but when you're in a podcast, it is.
Cathy: If this is the only thing that people know about you is how you're verbally presenting your ideas, it's my job as an audio editor to make those ideas sounds as best as they can, to let your ideas shine so that audiences don't get tripped up on how many ums you say or how many gaps you have in your speech, or those kinds of things. That's political too. Right? It's this kind of, not really tension, but these two simultaneous goals of wanting to privilege and honor people's actual speech patterns because that matters, because people bodies and the way that breath comes through those bodies matters, but also cut it down to a podcast episode that's going to work as a podcast episode. Those things are always simultaneously happening. I think some episodes do it better than others, but those are political questions, and I don't want to shy away from the politics of them
Aimi: Yeah, totally. Part of what I hear you saying is that there are certain user expectations, and you have to anticipate those. Then there are the production side practices. They don't necessarily have to match up completely because you are trying to destabilize some of the dominant ideas and podcasting around whose voice matters and whose voice should be presented, but at the same time, there are these kinds of accessibility concerns or concerns about legibility that have to be addressed and certain ... I don't know if you'd use the word standards, but some sort of threshold has to be met in order to produce something that then gives people an in, that then leads to the broader body of work.
Aimi: I think that that's something that gets discussed a lot in critical design, actually, too, is how do you present critical ideas through a material form in a way that it doesn't totally alienate the audience. Sometimes, alienation is the point, like the traditional critical design projects by people like Dunne & Raby were like, "Let's alienate the user and make them feel uncomfortable so that they think about who they are." There is an element of this, I think, that's just ... Maybe the feminist part, that's just much more generous. You don't have to be totally alienated. Yeah.
Cathy: It's less abrasive. Yeah. It's less confrontational, I think, is what you're pointing to, right? Confrontation can be really useful, politically, intellectually, but it can't be your only mode of communication. Right? Otherwise, you have no one else to communicate with because you've alienated all of them. It is that tension or that vacillation between wanting to call out what needs to be called out, and wanting to call attention to the bumpiness that needs to be highlighted, but also, make it accessible. Right? Make it accessible for different groups of people.
Aimi: I think that's a great final takeaway point for us to make it critical, but make it accessible. Well, thank you so much, Cathy. This is a wonderful conversation, and I learned a lot. It's given me a lot to think about in my own design practice around the podcast as well.
Cathy: Thanks for having me.
Aimi: Yeah. Great.
You’ve been listening to Contra*: a podcast about disability, design justice, and the lifeworld. Contra* is a production of the Critical Design Lab, Kevin Gotkin, Aimi Hamraie, Cassandra Hartblay, Maggie Mang, Jarah Moesch, and Leah Samples. Follow us on Twitter at @criticaldesignl and learn more about our projects at http://www.mapping-access.com.
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