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Introducing: María Gabriela Palacio Ludeña

María Gabriela Palacio recently joined the Latin American Studies programme at the Institute for History as University Lecturer in Modern Latin American History. Below, she introduces herself.

I am thrilled to join a community of committed Latinamericanists and take part in inspiring conversations about the region's most pressing issues. Even during the lockdown, the Latin American Studies community has made me feel welcomed and supported. I hope to continue developing synergies and linkages with my new colleagues and learning alongside them.

Born in southern Ecuador but living for several years in The Hague, I see myself as a bridge between diverse communities. I have moved between different worlds geographically and in terms of disciplines, knowledge (re)production, opportunities, privileges, and oppressions. My research contributes to interdisciplinary work on development studies, with a focus on social policy. Informed by political economy, anthropology of the state, and sociology of gender and race, it seeks to understand how social policy shapes social and political identities. My work interrogates conventional approaches to development by engaging with identity, difference, and power. I have cultivated a politically and historically situated critical scholarship of socioeconomic issues in Latin America, especially those concerning the persistence of inequality, fragmentation, informality, exclusion and polarisation.

Though I am new to the Institute for History, I am not new to Leiden University. I had the fantastic opportunity to teach at the BA International Studies - and will continue participating in a few courses - and be exposed to different disciplinary approaches and close engagement with global and regional issues. Leiden University has allowed me to encounter a genuinely diverse classroom, where I have learned to embrace differences and question myself in a continuous self-actualisation process. As I transition to Latin American Studies, I am interested in remaining open and curious while practising an engaged pedagogy. I hope that my courses in the Latin American programme can offer students an opening, a space to question preconceived notions about the region and envision paths for transformative change.

Because of the lockdown measures, I have not had the opportunity to see my new office at Leiden, and I could only meet my students in an online setting. I still feel a strong sense of nostalgia for the physical 'classroom'. Online education has a wholly different flavour and requires a new skill set and emotional intelligence to keep students motivated. As teachers, we had to learn on the job how to use online tools or face the silent student who might be struggling, but we simply cannot reach from a distance. We have also experienced how remote learning can quickly become a recipe for exhaustion as both teachers and students navigate the complex layers of obligations and demands emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. But it has also taught us novel things about the education process, as the public has met the private sphere. The virtual classroom has allowed for moments of reconnection and re-humanisation of the learning process, remind us that we all have different care obligations, financial responsibilities, resources to cope with the pandemic or emotional struggles. The pandemic has shown me that our students are increasingly concerned about the direct relevance of what they are learning for society. The times in which we live require sharp critical thinking skills. Public debates are characterised by increasing fear and loss of civility. Times like this also need us to be equipped with a capacity for empathy. I hope that the lessons learned during this period continue to inform our teaching practices and how we approach higher education in the future.

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