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LASA at 50

New York, New York, May 27 - 30, 2016

The 2016 meeting in New York City will celebrate LASA’s 50th anniversary, marking the milestone by returning to the great hemispheric metropolis that witnessed LASA’s inaugural congress in 1966. The Program Committee seeks to promote a distinctive event that simultaneously looks backward and forward. “LASA at 50” will assess the evolution of Latin American studies over the past halfcentury, paying special attention to how the locus of the field has changed in terms of transnational actors and flows and the shaping of new identities. At the same time, the event will also explore the challenges of creating a more participatory, diverse, and socially just future for the region and its interlocutors.

The New York Congress thus has two interrelated dimensions. First, we hope to take stock of the global and regional trends that have affected LASA’s creation and evolution over its first five decades. This calls upon us to explore the major shift from a Cold War context—with its always exaggerated emphasis on a bipolar world—to an indisputably multipolar context that has been shaped by recent transformations in the global geography of trade and investment and the social, cultural, and political phenomena that have both produced and responded to such transformations. Part and parcel of such hemispheric and global change is the significant transformation in the growth and structure of LASA’s membership and its implications for the organization’s role in shaping Latin American studies, both within the hemisphere and beyond. As of 2014, LASA had grown to over 9,000 members, almost 40 percent of whom are from Latin America and the Caribbean. Of course, major political, economic, and cultural shifts in the region over the last several decades, as well as the changing face of US-Latin American relations— and that of broader North-South and South-South interactions—are vital for an understanding of how academic production on Latin America has changed in the hemisphere and the world.

Second, we hope that “LASA at 50” will advance a broadly inclusive, critical discussion about the future of area studies and Latin American studies. We seek to promote a discussion of the ways LASA engages with the continuing evolution of cross-regional interactions that dynamically shape transnational processes, not least South-South relations. The historic 50th Congress will encourage a cross-fertilization of area studies, bringing Latin Americanists into dialogue with scholars and activists from other regional associations. Part of this task might involve an examination of the notions of “area” and “region” (particularly their importance in terms of identity projects), and an interrogation of how collective spatial identities are transformed in the context of shifting modes of hegemonic power. For example, who are the area or region builders in the twenty-first century? And what is the coherence of Latin America as a unit of political, cultural, or scholarly analysis in this century, whose early years have witnessed formidable obstacles and challenges to the future of area studies as an enterprise (in relation, say, to the burgeoning presence of “global” and “security” studies)? These issues can be engaged at a theoretical level, but they also map onto LASA’s long-standing commitment to forge a regional future that reflects greater participation, diversity, and social justice. The New York Congress’s collective deliberations on the occasion of LASA turning 50 at a critical worldhistorical moment would thereby underscore our association’s decades-long enterprise of crossing borders, integrating knowledge and practice, and building communities.