While Africa conventionally has been imagined as a place of ‘raw data’, Dr Willems' work treats the continent as a starting point for theorising media and communications. Her research engages with the politics of global academic knowledge production and ongoing debates on the ‘internationalisation’, ‘de-westernisation’, or ‘decolonisation’ of the field of media and communication studies. Her research challenges the way in which the Global South has been framed in the subfields of comparative media studies, international communication and development communication. It also aims to reinscribe the marginalised research of African media and communication scholars as part of a broader global disciplinary history. Dr Willems is currently working on two monographs.
Her first book project, Postcolonial Publics, Mediated Encounters and the Performance of Resistance, offers a postcolonial/decolonial critique of arguments on the ‘global’ or ‘transnational’ public sphere. Arguing for a conceptual shift from ‘flows of information’ to ‘mediated encounters’, the book proposes that global media and communication studies engages more intimately with the legacy of colonial histories and their role in shaping publics in postcolonial contexts. Drawing on her research on the ‘Zimbabwe crisis’, the book examines a range of mediated encounters between ex-colony and ex-coloniser, the rulers and the ruled, and home-based and diasporic citizens. It demonstrates that global media discourse is no longer merely about the conveying of ‘news’ (if it ever was) but increasingly about the news itself and who deserves – or is entitled to – visibility in the public arena.
Her second book project, provisionally entitled Mobile Publics, Platform Power and Urban Civic Engagement, interrogates the relation between digital media and social change in Zambia through a global analytical lens. It aims to contribute to a better understanding of the evolving nature of the internet(s) in specific local contexts that are also undergoing other processes of change. For many users in the Global South, the internet is increasingly equal to a ‘social media internet’ that is largely accessed through mobile phones and shaped by powerful social media platforms for whom the Global South features as a key expansion ground in the face of saturating markets in the Global North. Based on fieldwork carried out in Lusaka, Zambia during elections in 2011 and 2016, this book examines the mobile, visual, temporal and ‘social’ affordances of digital culture and their political implications.