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Meet the Neighbours: The New Faculty of 2013

Matilde Beccatti (MSc Media & Comm, '13) sits down with our newest faculty members to learn a little bit about what they do and what makes then tick. 

As our department grows older it continues to expand by welcoming new faculty with niche expertise who are involved in innovative research. January 2013 saw Drs. Wendy Willems| and Alison Powell| permanent join our staff with foci in critical approaches to development and african studies and digital activism and open source cultures, respectively.

Willems enters the department as a Lecturer in Media, Communication and Development and expressed excitement about returning to the cosmopolitan environment of London during our conversation. She comes to the LSE after serving as Head of Department and Senior Lecture of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Whilst in South Africa Willems taught students during the post Apartheid period and assisted in the elections transition in Zambia, an experience which she described as formative.

Citing her training in African Studies, Willems hopes to add a unique perspective to the department’s research profile and help reconfigure some of its current themes. Coming from a university based in the Global South, much of her current research focused on critical questions regarding the media and African countries. Specifically, her interests include issues of diversity and de-westernisation. Acutely aware of the bias in knowledge production toward the Global North, Willems stressed the importance of looking at things from diverse, critical prospectives.

Willems demonstrates a passion for reinvigorating debates in media and communications through a critical lens focused on geo-economic divides. When asked about those books most formative in her intellectual approach she offered a vibrant set, listing texts such as Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa by Jean and John Comaroff, a piece Willems found particularly influential, and Mahmood Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism

Unlike Willems, Powell mad a significantly shorter physical journey to join the department, spending two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute (University of Oxford) just 45 minutes outside of London. Naming her time in Oxford as one of her best profession experiences, Powell is still in awe of the professional transitions she has made since completing her PhD at Corcordia University (Montreal) on community wireless networks and technical activism.

Powell described moving to Oxford and then to London from Canada as a “hugely transformative experience”, stating that she is now very happy to have the opportunity to do creative work with excellent students while engaging in work that is relevant in the word outside academia. Discussing pedagogy, Powell shared her love for trying to explain complex concepts to students, especially when they have interesting and creative responses.

Powell’s research interests cut across different fields and while some align with the department’s traditional foci, Powell enriches the its research profile through inquiry around how people see and organise the increasingly digital world, how we solve problems creatively, and, more generally, communication infrastructures, innovations and new technologies. When asked to share those works that she found most influential in forming her intellectual approach, Powell took a more literary route and named such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje and Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart—the latter a story about love, the complication of human emotions and feelings and new forms of mediation.

Willems and Powell represent the addition of diverse sets of skills to a department that is continually thriving after rapid growth over the past ten years. Both of these young scholars contribute not only depth in areas which highlight key departmental research agendas but also fresh perspectives on teaching and student engagement.

For updates about Powell, Willems and the rest of the Media@LSE faculty follow @MediaLSE on Twitter.