Podcasting and embodiment

Mainstream discourse about podcasting rarely discusses the affordances of the body. It rarely makes explicit the minimum requirements for participating, at the level of embodiment, or the bodily differences among users and producers that threaten to exclude some people from profitably using web audio and video.

Instead, mainstream discourse about podcasting tends to assume a certain ideal body type — a hearing, seeing, speaking, flexible, mouse-moving (as opposed to keyboard-using) user. Because the minimum requirements for participating are assumed, those who write about podcasting are generally not aware of the need or importance of accommodating technology to users with disabilities.

What if our understanding of web audio and video was grounded on a deep awareness of the body and bodily difference? What if our mainstream discourses did not automatically assume that podcasting, in the absence of transcripts or other accommodations, was accessible to all users? What if we were committed to teasing apart the differences between accessibility and availability, instead of assuming that accessibility was equivalent to making it easy for an ideal user to download files?

In Disability and the Teaching of Writing (2008), Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Brueggemann ask us to reflect on the body and bodily difference in the context of writing instruction:

How can we better understand learning and writing as embodied practices, foregrounding bodily difference instead of demanding bodily perfection? (3)

Applied to web audio and video, this question urges us to consider the extent to which our understanding of podcasting (as reflected in discourse) is grounded on bodily perfection, the ways in which the body is absent from podcasting discourse, and whether our conceptions of users are normative (e.g. insofar as hearing is required for conformance).

S. Zdenek

Dr. Sean Zdenek is an associate professor of technical and professional writing at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Reading Sounds: Closed-Captioned Media and Popular Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2015).


3 Responses

  1. Interesting. I wonder if you could look at podcasting and the body through the lens of ritual? I am thinking of Catherine Bell’s “Ritual Theory Ritual Practice”:

    The specific strategies of ritualization come together in the production of a ritualized social body, a body with the ability to deploy in the wider social context the schemes internalized in the ritualized environment. The ritualized social body, therefore, is one that comes to possess, to various degrees, a cultural ‘sense of ritual’… Ritual mastery implies that ritual can exist only in the specific cultural schemes and strategies for ritualization (i.e., for the production of ‘ritualized’ practices) embodied and accepted by persons of specific cultural communities. Ritual mastery also indicates something of the ‘work’ of ritualization, specifically, the production of a ritualized social agent in whose body lies the schemes by which to shift the organization or significance of many other culturally possible situations (pp. 107-108).

    So what happens to people who cannot participate in ‘ritualized social practice?’ How do they participate in expected communal practices?

    Just a thought.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Safari Bob. I’m going to find that article and take a closer look.

    Thinking of podcasting in terms of ritual perhaps begins to explain why accessibility is off the radar in mainstream discourse. Thinking of podcasting in terms of ritual may also explain why some are resistant to modifying our current practices/rituals to accommodate a larger population of potential users.


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