Ellie Anderson

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Project Overview

Awardee: Ellie Anderson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Teaching Assistants: Anna Solomon (Pitzer ’23) and Sam Hernandez (Pomona ’24)

Title: Public Philosophy Through Podcasting and Social Media

Goal: To redesign the PHIL 54: Existentialism course with a new emphasis on public philosophy through podcasting and social media

Project Description

Existentialism is a school of philosophy whose proponents have been engaged in public discourse ever since the term was coined a century ago. During World War II and beyond, French existentialist philosophers including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus wrote op-eds on philosophical and political issues in magazines, newspapers, and the journal Les Temps Modernes (founded by Sartre, Beauvoir, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in 1945). In these public-facing writings, existential philosophers took up current events by reflecting on anti-Semitism, sexism, authoritarianism, and racism.

Given this background and how new digital media dominate cultural discourse today, Ellie Anderson decided to redesign her Existentialism course with an emphasis on public philosophy through podcasting and social media. Anderson has her own experience launching a podcast, Overthink, which analyzes popular discourse within a philosophical lens. She translated this experience into helping students transition from submitting one-page reading responses to weekly social media posts.

The aim of our course is to create engaging, accessible content that is also accurate and scholarly.

-Ellie Anderson
Student work samples, from left: (1) Chromatic Thought podcast, (2) Ratatouille and Despair, an Instagram Explainer, (3) Zooming In podcast

Each student created a Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) site and, after learning some fundamentals, chose one of three digital assignment tracks: podcasting (using the on-campus recording studio and Descript software), YouTube, or social media (Instagram, Twitter, and/or TikTok). Through their chosen medium, students completed graded assignments, explaining existential concepts and relating them to present-day issues. With this new course, Anderson hoped students would not only learn about the key tenets of Existentialism but also understand the basic technologies for doing public philosophy and how and why digital media can be effective educational tools for communicating existential theories to the general public.

Project Outcomes

Guest Speakers: Amanda Bennett, Barry Lam, and David Peña-Guzmán

The Hahn grant funds went toward incorporating Pitzer third-year Anna Solomon and Pomona second-year Sam Hernandez as TAs, as well as hosting three guest speakers: Amanda Bennet, a scholar of black feminist theory and literature from Duke; Barry Lam who hosts Hi-Phi Nation, one of the most successful philosophy podcasts currently out; and Anderson’s Overthink co-host, David Peña-Guzmán, who is also an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University.

The most impressive part of the students’ work was how accurate and engaging their work on challenging philosophies was – it really showed how they are capable of conveying complex material through public philosophy.

-Ellie Anderson

Anderson noted that students found great inspiration from these speakers, something that is clearly evident in their posts. For example, one student created a TikTok in which his post-grad self traveled back in time to explain Beauvoir’s words to his current self. Another created a dating profile that playfully explained Beauvoir’s representation of different stages of moral development.

The students’ public philosophy work has been phenomenal.

-Ellie Anderson

Thanks to Anderson’s entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity, surely, this is only the beginning of many social media posts to come from budding Claremont Colleges philosophy scholars.

See more student sites from the Fall 2021 PHIL 54 cohort.

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