Dr Wendy Willems

Room TW3.7.01G

Department of Media and Communications

London School of Economics and Political Science

Houghton Street



020 7852 3738


Twitter (@MediaLSE):!/medialse



Dr Wendy Willems

Assistant Professor

I joined the LSE Department of Media and Communications as Assistant Professor in January 2013. 

Prior to that, I was Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa (2010-2012). I remain affiliated to the University of the Witwatersrand as an Honorary Research Fellow.

Previously, I was also a Visiting Lecturer in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster in London (2006, 2008) and the Department of Media and Society Studies at Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe (2012). Between 2004 and 2009, I worked as Senior Research Officer for the London-based development NGO War on Want where I coordinated the Informal Economy Programme.

I hold a BSc/MSc in Economics ('International Economic Studies') and a BA/MA in Cultural Studies ('Cultuur- en Wetenschapsstudies') from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, and a PhD in Media and Film Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

In 2006, I founded the Journal of African Media Studies (JAMS) together with Dr Winston Mano from the University of Westminster. Our main motivation was to create a peer-reviewed international journal that would adopt a broad definition of media and would contribute to the on-going re-positioning of media and cultural studies outside the Anglo-American axis. 

The key question that occupies my research is the role that different forms of media and popular culture play in consolidating power and enabling resistance and social change. In broad terms, my research revolves around three main strands.

Critical approaches to media, communication and development

My approach to media, communication and development is grounded in critical theory/cultural studies and seeks to deconstruct mainstream approaches to communication and development ('ComDev'), hereby engaging with key theoretical perspectives on power and resistance and connecting with broader debates in media and cultural studies on internationalising, dewesternising and decolonising the field.

Interrogating the role of media in elections and citizen participation in Zambia and Zimbabwe, my research contends that the bulk of academic research on media and communication in Africa has studied media through the normative lens of (Western) liberal-democratic media-state relations. I argue that this approach has insufficiently looked at the actual, historical and contextual role of media in African societies but instead focused on what roles media ought to play on the continent. Furthermore, the heavy focus on media-state relations has ignored the way in which ordinary people relate to media.

New media and social change

My most recent research investigates the role of new media (mobile phones and social media) in processes of social change. Critiquing mainstream development approaches, I examine the way in which mobile media are implicated in reconfigurations of space, mobility and social relations in an age of neoliberalism. Focusing on Zambia as a case study, I consider mobile phones as both a product of the neoliberal turn as well as an 'enabler' of this turn.

While dominant approaches to ICTs have mostly celebrated their empowering potential in Africa, I consider the potential of mobile phones in bringing about emancipation while simultaneously treating these technologies as always embedded within complex relations of economic, social and political power which may have potentially limiting effects. I am interested in understanding how mobile phones impact on conceptions of space, mobility and social relationships as well as how relations between online and offline spaces are forged in particular localities and processes of social change.

Popular culture, performance and politics in Africa

My last research focus (which is partly based on my PhD thesis) is located at the intersection of political communication, cultural studies and African Studies. I am interested in the crucial role that popular culture plays in the consolidation of power and the performance of resistance, both in the African context and elsewhere. Drawing on case studies of the role of music, humour and performance in Zimbabwe, I interrogate politics as a form of popular culture and popular culture as a site of politics. I am interested in the performative aspects of political communication and the role of popular culture in mediating the relationship between state and citizens.

I am on sabbatical in the Michaelmas term. In the Lent term, I convene MC428 Media Culture and Neoliberalism in the Global South.

In 2011, I was awarded the Faculty of Humanities Individual Teaching and Learning Award at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and in 2012, I was awarded the Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning Award at the same institution.

I welcome supervision in areas such as media culture and neoliberalism; media and religion; media anthropology; humour and resistance; music, performance and politics; mobile phones/social media and social change; race and media; media and nationalism.


Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

Book Chapters 







E. Obadare and W. Willems (eds.), Civic agency in Africa: arts of resistance in the 21st century. Oxford: James Currey. ISBN 9781847010865

To buy from Amazon or James Currey

 Journal of African Media Studies (JAMS)