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50 years of Latin American Studies celebrated at Birkbeck

An interdisciplinary conference marked the 50th anniversary of the Society for Latin American Studies

From Wednesday 2 – Friday 4 April 2014, approximately 350 scholars of Latin America’s politics, culture and society gathered at Birkbeck for the 50th anniversary conference of the Society for Latin American Studies. Delegates attended from across the UK, Europe and North America.

A diverse field of study

The conference programme reflected the diversity of Latin American Studies whose interdisciplinary nature incorporates the study of history, music, economics, anthropology, development, literature, history and international relations. The conference included nearly 50 panels, some which focused on a specific country and others which used comparison between Latin American countries, or between Latin America and Europe to explore new developments and challenges which are faced both in Latin America and globally.

Latin American Culture

The challenges of ‘reading’ Latin America through historic photographic archives was the subject of one panel, which considered the significance of photographs in revolutions, military dictatorships and contemporary urban environments, while another considered the role of oral histories in recording some of the region's traumatic historical events and in constructing national identities. Moving from the voice – the oldest tool for recording and passing knowledge from one generation to another - another panel looked at modern day means of recording, displaying and protesting elements of life in Latin America in a panel on digital culture.

Latin American Politics

Over recent years indigenous peoples in Latin America have reclaimed their place in public life at the same time as the region has seen a wave of populist left-wing leaders. These events made for rich material for several conference panels which covered liberalism and political ideals, the regional phenomenon of strong leaders and weak democracies and the shifts that have occurred in relationship between the executive and the judiciary in different countries.

Development in Latin America

With rapid development across Latin America in recent decades leading to extensive urbanisation, cities, nature and climate change were all focused upon by speakers, as well as the extractive industries, which have had such a major impact on both the economies and the environment in the region.

Dr Jasmine Gideon, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies in Birkbeck’s Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies, who convened the 50th Anniversary conference, said: “Over the last 50 years Latin American Studies has grown into a broad and rich academic area, attracting scholars from many disciplines. The conference was a wonderful showcase of the vibrancy of the scholarship in Latin American Studies and a wonderful opportunity to hear about the latest research taking place into the past, present and future of this fascinating region.”

Photo: Professor Javier Auyero (University of Texas at Austin) delivering the conference's keynote speech entitled 'Towards a political sociology of urban marginality'