The many voices of Iris: now a polyphonic podcast

After a year and almost thirty episodes of Conversations with Iris as zoomcast, Stefano Piemontese and Nando Sigona explain why it was time to launch also a podcast version. The podcast is available on GoogleApple Podcast, and Spotify

Before the pandemic, IRiS hosted monthly seminars on campus, inviting scholars, writers, and activists to present their work and discuss it with staff and students. In Spring 2020, the pandemic started and lockdown restrictions were implemented, we asked ourselves: how do we carry out these activities in this new scenario? The answer was simple: we moved our seminars online. 

Our audiences for online seminars were double or triple compared to in-person meetings.

The transition from the offline to online world was not easy, but as a research institute we could build on our long-established social media presence and our experience of reaching out to different audiences with our research. In practice, teleconferencing software like Zoom, and social media platforms like YouTube, allowed us to invite a larger audience to our events: not only could people living in Birmingham come, sit and engage in discussion with our speakers, but virtually the rest of the world could participate, also in an asynchronous way. 

If we have learned something from social media, it’s that it can make the private public. That’s how, at an informal coffee meeting of Iris staff and affiliates, we came up with ‘Conversations with IRiS’: we wanted to allow audiences to ‘eavesdrop’ on a dialogue between two people, people who took the time to ask the right questions, listen to each other, and build together a shared reflection outside the traditional canons and formats that characterise the dissemination of research results, such as conferences and seminars. 

‘Conversations with IRiS’ was born to create an alternative, more intimate and dialogical space to talk about the research we conduct at IRiS. 

We used the conversations to reach out to new audiences worldwide, enter into a dialogue with people we would not have usually reached with an on-campus event, and strategically build international partnerships and networks. Thanks to IRiS administrator who volunteered to transcribe the videos and occasionally the generation of automatic subtitles on YouTube, we were able to run conversations in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, and thus engage with research realised outside of the English-speaking world. Moreover, this format enables us to give space to the multiple voices that make up our Institute. The choice was made to reach out to a diverse range of speakers but also to have Iris been embodied by as many IRiS researchers as possible. This means that to date we have recorded 27 episodes, some are double episodes with the same speaker, with Iris being represented by fourteen people. From the beginning we wanted the ‘Iris’ of our conversations to be a collective name made by different identities, positionalities and intellectual interests. 

To date we have recorded 27 episodes, with Iris being represented by fourteen people. From the beginning we wanted the ‘Iris’ of our conversations to be a collective name made by different identities, positionalities, experiences and intellectual interests. 

In one year, (from May 2020 to June 2021), we talked about everything from racism in healthcare to the racialised effect of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ asylum seekers in the UK. While the first episodes were almost exclusively focused to various degrees on the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences, gradually we expanded our focus to cover a wider range of issues from the use of technologies at borders, to global and regional migration governance. 

This summer, we decided to convert all these episodes into a Podcast. We will continue hosting our conversations on Zoom and publishing them on the IRiS YouTube channel. However, we do not want to ask people to be in front of a screen for more time than they already spend. We are overwhelmed by screens, at work and home. In addition, the communication technologies we use daily to communicate with our friends and family, including social media and video chats, invite us to spend a lot of time online. The pandemic has only exacerbated this situation. After a day at work, surrounded by screens, you may not want to watch a 20-minute Youtube video. But if this conversation is on a Podcast, you can just drive your car, sit on the bus, go running, or relax on your couch, close your eyes, and spend 20 minutes of your week learning something new.

[Revised version of the text originally published in Social Policy Matters]

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