Following a first experiment in academic podcasting I carried out last year with my colleague and fellow anthropologist Ian M. Cook from the Central European University - and with the logistical support of my fantastic TA Victoria Priori and the technical support of Guillaume Pasquier at the Library (special thanks to both!) - students enrolled in my course ‘Comparative Humanitarianisms’ (DE149) this year were given the opportunity to produce a podcast instead of an essay.
Contrary to last year when students were asked to document humanitarian responses to the Covid-19 pandemic (listen to last year’s podcasts here), no special focus was imposed this time. Students were left free to choose as a group which specific aspects of contemporary humanitarianisms they were interested in researching.
Unsurprisingly, many of them decided to examine the war in Ukraine and the special treatment and expressions of solidarity Ukrainian refugees fleeing their war-torn country received in Europe by contrast to other asylum seekers from the Middle East or Africa facing similar situations, and yet left to die at sea or to wait for indefinite time in camps.
The podcasts ask a series of important questions about the ‘hierarchies of humanity’ that the humanitarian system tends to reproduce, in spite of its rootedness in the ideal of universal compassion toward suffering others. They interrogate the meaning of solidarity in an unequal world, people’s motivations to help in moments of crisis and whether humanitarian action is the best framework to address systemic inequalities between the Global North and the Global South.
Through interviews with humanitarian workers, refugees, asylum specialists, activists and concerned citizens, students explored the limitations, potential and ethical dilemmas of humanitarian action, the domestic dimension of international humanitarianism, as well as the ambiguous nature of international law for granting protection to specific categories of populations such as refugees.
Podcasting requires much more than technical skills: it is a craft that requires talents in research, interviewing, sound arrangement and writing. For most students, it was the first time they tried their hand at producing such an audio format. The experience fostered their enthusiasm and creativity as well as their critical thinking. As a group testified in the reflexive piece it submitted simultaneously to their podcast :
“This project allowed us to enhance our analytical capabilities. We believe that these skills will represent a significant added value in our future professional experiences. On a more personal level, after two years of COVID-19, we enjoyed meeting up to work together on the podcast. As we met up weekly, we got to know each other better, our cultures, backgrounds, and opinions, forging a closer relationship”.