My name is Sean Brennan. I'm not an academic, I'm a lawyer whose work involves writing bills in a variety of subject areas. I also teach English to adult immigrants to the U.S., working as a volunteer through a local community college. So how did I come to hear about Capital as Power? Well, my route was long and circuitous. I was a political science major as an undergrad and was exposed to Marxist theory then. I found it generally persuasive, but had no way to apply it to anything in the rest of my life, so I simply kept the analytical outlook as an aid to understanding the world and went on with other studies and other career plans. Cut to years later, when I wanted to get a master's degree in education so that I could teach my adult students more effectively. In the course of getting that degree, I began reading the history of education and learned about the racism and classism that attended the birth of public education in the U.S. That led me to a more focused inquiry into the origins of racism, which in turn led in relatively short order to a re-examination of classism with an updated analytical understanding, then to a look at neoliberalism and its origins and finally, to a fortuitous reading of Bechler and Nitzan's Capital as Power courtesy of the website academia.edu.
All well and good you say, but so what?
Well, I was instantly excited and persuaded by the Capital as Power perspective (though not without reservations -- I think there are a number of conceptual holes that need to be filled, but that's a discussion for another time). I also wondered why it took me so long to find out about this new perspective. A few weeks ago, I wondered why it should be so hard for *anybody* to find out about this new perspective.
And so I have a proposal. With the upcoming CasP Conference, I think there's an opportunity to talk about praxis. I know that's been an occasionally contentious topic in CasP studies, but as an outsider, I think it's a necessary component of developing a sociological theory and that, given Jonathan Nitzen's stated goal of having a decentralized and at least partially nonacademic set of research centers dedicated to fleshing out the CasP theoretical framework, I think it's essential. Realizing that goal means spreading the word about CasP outside the academy and trying to enlist a range of researchers, thinkers, activists and others in not just developing the CasP framework but also, ideally, applying it. Testing it empirically.
The initial form of praxis that I have in mind is simply to spread the CasP perspective outside the academy through a podcast. Why a podcast? Because podcasts are still growing in popularity, are widely available, are cheap to produce and distribute, are completely free of any restrictions on what you can and can't say and can take a wide variety of forms. The kind of podcast I have in mind should accomplish a number of things:
1. It must explain the ideas of Capital as Power in an easily digestible manner. It's important to not oversimplify, "dumb down" or distort the ideas or to get too cutesy or trendy (as I think was the case for a podcast that the New Economics Foundation produced called "A Beginner's Guide to Neoliberalism"). Instead, the podcast should explain CasP in a way that is approachable but not overly academic. There would need to be a few segments of introduction to explain the approach and how it differs in particular from our shared popular cultural understand of how "economics" works (that's where most listeners will be conceptually), and also how CasP is not Marxism. After that, perhaps it can start laying out the evidence for CasP, delving into the history of capitalism, how capital as power manifests itself in visible power structures in society, why CasP is a valuable way to look at how our society works, etc. There are many, many possible ways to structure this, but it absolutely *must* have a structure that is easy to follow. It would be a popularization, not an academic treatise for specialists.
2. It must tell a story. Listeners need a reason to keep listening, so having an episodic structure will help them follow the ideas and keep them coming back to hear more. Each episode should end with a "hook" and preview of coming attractions to keep listeners coming back. This could be in the form of a narrative history, chronological or otherwise, or another way of connecting topics together from episode to episode.
3. It must be "slick," but not *too* slick. By that I mean it should be scripted in advance, well produced, with breaks at appropriate points, musical transitions, sound effects if and when needed, and very tight editing. The kind of wandering and aimless talk you get on many YouTube channels and many podcasts doesn't hold listener attention. Listener time and attention is limited, and listeners will want the show to get to the point quickly and effectively. The podcast or broadcast should aim to sound at least as good as your average NPR or CBC news or chat show, but it should not aim to be another This American Life or Radiolab or something else that might come off as gimmicky.
4. It should be varied, with different voices and different perspectives. It should include interviews with academics and other practitioners in the field. It should also provide for some means with which listeners can interact with the show -- perhaps by calling in (if it's a broadcast, for example) or by leaving recorded questions on a voicemail system that can be replayed and answered during the course of the podcast. Perhaps it would include interviews with ordinary people about their jobs and how capital and power manifest themselves in peoples' lives. It might be useful to have an occasional civil debate between proponents and opponents of the Capital as Power perspective or among adherents of the Capital as Power perspective who have differing takes on a given issue. Listeners shouldn't see CasP as some sort of Sermon from the Mount, but rather as something they can understand, interact with, critique and apply to their own lives and situations.
5. Taking the previous point into account, I think it would probably work best to have a single host or a duo (male and female to make differentiating among the voices easy) for all of the episodes. Listeners need an anchor that can help them become familiar with the podcast as a show -- as an ongoing presentation with trusted guides to take them through this new world. The hosts should have engaging personalities and a delivery style that sounds relatively informal, I think. Having a consistent tone, editorial voice and identifiable personalities would make it easier for listeners to relate to and identify with the podcast or broadcast.
6. It should be relatively short. Episodic listening would be best. If it's a podcast, it might tax listeners' attention if each episode is longer than half an hour. People who start listening to podcasts often feel an obligation to listen to the end, but won't do so if the podcast is too long or too dull. If it's a broadcast show, it can be about an hour -- people will feel free to tune into and out of a broadcast in a way they might not when listening to a podcast. That said, it might also be worth producing a "season" at a time for those inclined to "binge listen" (assuming it ends up being that riveting to listen to).
7. It should have some call to action. At first, that can mean directing listener attention to the BN archives to find out more, but later on there might be other calls to action, such as forming Meetup groups in various cities to get people treating the podcast and the ideas as something they can discuss among themselves. The call for additional CasP research centers might start with something like this -- people who are interested in the topic getting together and figuring out how to use these ideas constructively. From there, perhaps other possibilities will present themselves.
The biggest challenge in all of this will be getting any kind of attention in an already overcrowded podcast and broadcast market. That's why I think it's essential for a podcast or broadcast to stand out for not just the quality of the ideas, but also the quality of the production.
Obviously this would require a lot of collaboration and coordination among a range of people, but I think the effort would be worth it. I don't know what general opinion on this question would be, however, so that's the reason for the post -- is it premature to do this? Is it useful? Is it workable?
I know all of us, particularly the academics among us, already feel as though we have a lot on our plates, but I think that if we can brainstorm on this proposal during or after the conference, we can come up with a number of good ideas and ways to share the burden of producing a good podcast. Ideally it would be an ongoing project, updated frequently (at least monthly, if not more often) with segments that highlight new research, call attention to new papers, share stories of new people brought into the CasP fold, etc. I have a broadcast background from more than a decade hosting a music show on the radio in Portland, Oregon, so I have some skills I can bring to the table in hosting and production. Others will undoubtedly bring a menu of useful skills with them as well. In Portland, there is also a community radio station, KBOO, that could potentially be persuaded to broadcast a show like this proposed podcast. This is something I would be happy to look into if there is sufficient support for the idea.
Thanks very much for your attention to this long post.