Modern life is both beset by social issues and bustling with technological and societal change. Keeping track of recent developments and an outlook for the future can be a considerable challenge. On the other hand, it can also be extremely rewarding to find avenues in which to make a difference and insights into the countless incredible stories unfolding in society every day. This list of the 10 best social issues podcasts will provide you with options for entertaining, fascinating, and often hilarious insights into the issues of today.
#1. Social Matters Podcast
Social workers are among the most qualified to talk on the day-to-day, practical realities of combating social issues. Social Matters features a trio of British social workers, with hands-on experience in addressing the practical aspects of social issues.
The podcast deals with the general and the specific, from the significance of using particular language to overviews of entire spectra, such as race. They also address specific time-relevant issues such as COVID-19.
The trio brings factual realities to discussions, while also exploring the surrounding social and political context. They approach topics with both sensitivity and humor, doing justice to both the darker, more serious elements, and the pervasive humor and hope that arises from the human spirit.
The Hosts: Hosts Nadia, Fran, and Eugene are clearly good, genuine friends, whose amiable chemistry makes for warm company. The entertaining listening experience often breaks down into contagious laughter. Conversation strays to surrounding miscellanea and slices of relatable day-to-day life. The human and empathetic element brought to discussions is invaluable.
The Guests: Occasional guest features such as author Kim Scott and Professor David Shemmings bring unique perspectives and deeply informed insights to discussions.
Why You Have to Listen: This podcast offers practical advice for those seeking to make a difference and points to other resources directed to those wishing to engage in social work or understand aspects of the practical realities of engaging in modern social issues. For those interested in engaging in this kind of work, the first season, in particular, dedicates many episodes to practical aspects of social work.
Listen to Social Matters
Rating: All Ages
#2. Pod Save the People
Also the product of an activist, Pod Save the People takes a more topical approach. A particular focus is paid to exploring the most immediate and pressing issues in the news of the week, approaching each with a fresh and contemporary perspective. Each episode will also generally zero in on specific issues, bringing empathy, insight, and fresh perspectives.
The Host: Host DeRay Mckessen is an organizer and activist, with a keen eye for the stories beneath the surface the stream of news. Having been involved in addressing social issues long-term, he offers acute insight, as do co-hosts Brittany Packnett and Sam Sinyangwe, fellow activists, and Dr. Clint Smith II, writer.
The Guests: Aside from the regulars, the podcast also brings on a range of expert guests to add clarity and details to discussions. Particularly notable guests include Edward Snowden and Senator Cory Booker.
Why You Have to Listen: Have known each other for a long-time, the hosts have an easy chemistry among themselves. plus an understanding of each other. Each brings an intelligent and thought-provoking perspective to the concepts under consideration, bringing attention to often overlooked issues.
#3. 80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin
In a similar vein, 80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin asks how people can have a positive impact on social issues within their established career. Host Rob Wiblin tackles big topics in long-form interviews and asks what the average person can do within their career to address them.
Areas explored include journalistic ethics, the fundamentals of capitalism, animal welfare, and government. Technology, the environment, psychology, all are laid bare in this podcast, which always returns to a distinct focus upon careers, and how to do good within any given occupation.
The Host: Rob Wiblin is the Director of Research at 80,000 Hours, a non-profit organization that pursues the same goal the podcast addresses, finding ways to enact positive social change within a career. The research performed and advice provided by the organization informs Wiblin’s interviews.
The Guests: Wiblin is joined by deeply knowledgeable, highly qualified. and impressively varied guests, who each bring more than enough know-how to fill even the longest interviews.
Why You Have to Listen: The podcast devotes long stretches of time to each issue, frequently exceeding 2, sometimes 3 or 4, hours, as host and interviewee dig deep into diverse areas. For a listener looking to go in-depth with the opportunities existing in their own career, the comprehensive advice provided is well-worth dedicating the time to.
#4. Code Switch
NPR has a penchant for high-quality and socially relevant content, and the Code Switch podcast is no exception. Exploring the concept of race in modern society, hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji unpack issues of race and culture in a perceptive and personal way.
The Hosts: Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji each possess extensive experience, covering today’s most immediate and critical social issues. They vocalize the perspective of the public, bringing humor, curiosity, and empathy.
The Guests: Experts are often invited onto the podcast to add detail in their particular area, filling in the historical, social, and political context behind the social issues which persist to this day.
Why You Have to Listen: Weaving in audio clips as many of these podcasts do, Code Switch often places an emphasis on the input of listeners. The hosts will regularly put out a call for relevant listener experiences, and then allowing their stories to play and speak for themselves. This is, of course, combined with discussion of statistics and wider trends, supplemented with the insight of experts, forming an informative, empathetic, and personal exploration of race in contemporary society.
#5. Throwing Shade
Throwing Shade addresses issues such as feminism and LGBT+ rights in the realms and politics and popular culture, with a pervasive irreverent humor. Hosts Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi have earned recognition from such publications as Entertainment Weekly for their unique blend of seriousness and silliness.
The Hosts: Gibson and Safi have a delightful, biting chemistry that generates endless tangents of entertaining back-and-forth. Their vibrant personalities invigorate every second of the podcast and meld to create something which can be found nowhere else.
Why You Have to Listen: The humor with which sensitive issues are addressed will not be for everyone – but for those seeking a dose of comedy blended with varied exploration of social issues, there is no other podcast like this one.
Listen to Throwing Shade
#6. Scene on Radio
Scene on Radio began its life as a pool of short, topically-varied productions and stories of human interest. The podcast’s more recent output has taken the form of focussed seasons, each centered upon a specific issue. The previous, for example, is a 12-episode season exploring masculinity in contemporary society. Both the early collections of episodes, and these more recent expansive explorations make for fascinating, insightful listening.
Exceptional production values and thorough journalism bring together excerpts of relevant media, including movies, literature. and news broadcasts, as well as a wealth of interviews. Constructed with the attention to detail and clarity of storytelling of a high-quality documentary, both the small, contained episodes and the expansive seasons effectively fascinate and inform.
The Host: Host and producer John Biewen has extensive reporting and documentary experience, and it shows. is joined by co-hosts to lend their own perspective and insight, such as Chenjerai Kumanyika and Celeste Headwin. A wealth of interviewees bring expert knowledge, first-hand experiences, or both.
Why You Have to Listen: Though the podcast is predominantly America-centric, there are notable exceptions, such as a deeply affecting exploration of Hiroshima, decades after the nuclear attack. A deeply involving reconstruction of John Biewen’s 1995 documentary, Hiroshima: the River Remembers, the episode describes the rebirth of the town, interviews with survivors, new citizens, and others lending insight into the day of the attack, the harrowing aftermath, and also the surrounding war-time atrocities.
This Peabody-nominated podcast delves into the hidden causes behind human behavior and scientific phenomena. From the dissection of empathy, the collision of dating preferences and value systems, to the fault lines of our perceptions of reality, Invisibilia investigates stories that are unique, bizarre, and intriguing, pulling them apart and exploring what is happening under the hood.
Not restricted to social issues, this podcast unpacks scientific anomalies and examines the underlying causes – social issues are but one of the threads which are woven together in a tapestry of the most enthralling oddities which comprise the human experience.
The Hosts: Hosts Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel are each highly experienced, with extensive correspondence, producing, and journalistic work between them. They make for highly listenable presenters and often hand off reporting to equally engaging producers.
Why You Have to Listen: A particularly compelling episode of the podcast centers on a particular aspect of humanity: the fallibility of perception. The episode explores real-life manifestations of the psychological and emotional underpinning behind this perception. Most time is spent on the fascinating case of a Minnesota town’s split on the perception of local black bears, which eventually results in death.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Reveal is a treasure trove of high-quality investigative journalism, some of its episodes the product of months or years of reporting. The investigative journalists are excellent storytellers – recounts of their investigations are riddled with deeply human details and imagery, by turns touching and disturbing.
The Hosts: Al Letson, who brings diverse creativity to the podcast, as a journalist, poet, and playwright. Reports and newsrooms from the Washington Post, ProPublica, The Investigative Fund, and more, bring stories and coverage to the podcast.
Why You Have to Listen: As a creation of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, there is a commitment to high-quality journalistic work. Each episode unpacks issues with thoroughness, exploring multiple perspectives with fairness and balance. The commitment to up-to-date and accurate reporting is evident in the common rebroadcasting of episodes with updates and additional details.
#9. Hidden Brain
Hidden Brain describes itself as “a conversation about life’s unseen patterns.” Another NPR production, this podcast delivers on its premise with all the expected polish, detail, and energy.
In a similar vein to Invisibilia, host Shankar Vedantam looks beneath the surface of the issues that populate our every-day lives and explains them in a fascinating, yet clear fashion. The podcast Provides a satisfying mix of past, present, and future issues, viewed through this specific lens.
The Host: Vedantam has led a long career in journalist and writing, and is currently the science correspondent for NPR. He is enmeshed in the daily progression of science, and he brings his acute understanding of the landscape, and its inner workings, to this podcast with alacrity.
Why You Have to Listen: There are many podcasts unpacking modern-day phenomena, bringing social issues and causes to light. What the best of these podcasts, Hidden Brain included, bring to the table is a genuine curiosity and a distinct angle of analysis. With no shortage of bizarre, intriguing, and affecting real-world stories and phenomena, there can never be too many shining torches, illuminating the world one story at a time.
#10. The Secret History of the Future
The title says it all, with this uniquely conceptual podcast. Looking from the rear-view mirror to the road ahead, The Secret History of the Future delves into the lessons of history in order to predict what is to come. Salient insights informed predictions, and philosophical discussions propped up by historical accounts and expert interviews,
Where technology progresses, cyclically, the same problems and concerns arise again and again. This podcast is dedicated to illustrating the difference between past and present, a gap bridged by the constant of human behavior, and based upon this, predict the future, and how this ties into the progress of society.
The Hosts: The Economist’s Tom Standage and Slate’s Seth Stevenson each bring a wealth of historical knowledge and anecdotes to their podcast. They examine their thoroughly researched and perceptively dissected content with genuine joy and interest, bouncing off one another and working through each problem with a cogent and clear progression.
Why You Have to Listen: In an increasingly uncertain world, the future is an amorphous and often frightening thing. The lessons of the past offer the best indicators available in predicting what is to come. Standage and Stevenson neither sugarcoat their predictions nor plunge into pessimism. Instead, they offer optimistic hopefulness, a helping of realism, and acknowledgment of the potential for the dystopian, which are sure to assuage curiosity, without causing despair.
There is no shortage of need in modern society, but to understand the nature of this need, and the avenues to fill it, can seem overwhelming. These podcasts provide diverse openings through which to begin exploring today’s social issues. They also illuminate many of the fascinating, often uplifting stories unfolding in society every day.
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