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Department of Social Anthropology



South-Central Africa; Finland; African-language political and moral thought; radio and voice; liberalism, humanitarianism and human rights; political and moral economy.

I began my research in the early 1990s when a wave of democratisation swept across Africa. This formative period sparked my enduring interest in topics such as liberalism, democracy, human rights, moral obligation, freedom and equality. Studying these topics in their vernacular forms has involved long-term ethnographic fieldwork in South-Central Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia).

From 2017 until 2020, a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship enables me to pursue a project on linguistic translation as a perspective into questions of inequality and shared humanity in encounters across stark differences. The bulk of the project concerns linguistic, spiritual and humanitarian work done by 19th-century Scottish missionaries in present-day Malawi. The project will also include contemporary translation work between Chichewa / Chinyanja and English.

This project follows my recent interest in free speech in the context of vernacular radio in Zambia and Finland. My earlier projects have included work with human rights activists, refugees and Pentecostal Christians, among others.

I am a co-editor of the International African Library, a major monograph series published by Cambridge University Press for the International African Institute.

My audio work includes producing podcasts in Chinyanja, English and Finnish.



Key publications: 

Authored books

2018    Gogo Breeze: Zambia’s Radio Elder and the Voices of Free Speech. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

2011    Human Rights and African Airwaves: Mediating Equality on the Chichewa Radio. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

2006    Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2002    From War to Peace on the Mozambique-Malawi Borderland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute.

Edited works

2011    Christianity and Public Culture in Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

2004    Rights and the Politics of Recognition in Africa (with Francis B. Nyamnjoh). London: Zed Books.

2002    A Democracy of Chameleons: Politics and Culture in the New Malawi. Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute.

2002    Special Issue on Malawi (with Deborah Potts and John McCracken). Journal of Southern African Studies 28(1).


2018    The Front Line of Free Speech: Beyond Parrhêsiain Finland’s Migrant DebateAmerican Ethnologist, 45(1), 100-111.

2015    Forget the Poor: Radio Kinship and Exploited Labor in Zambia. Current Anthropology, 56 (Supplement 11), S137-S145.

2015    Multivocal Morality: Narrative, Sentiment, and Zambia’s Radio Grandfathers. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 5(2), 251-273.

2015    Anti Anti-Colonialism: Vernacular Press and Emergent Possibilities in Colonial Zambia. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 57(1), 221-247.

2013    The Place of Theory: Rights, Networks, and Ethnographic Comparison (with Thomas Yarrow). Social Analysis, 57(3), 132-149.

2013    Zambia at 50: The Rediscovery of Liberalism. Africa, 83(4), 670-689.

2011    The Snowball State and the Perils of Oblivion. Cambridge Anthropology, 29, 30-34.

2008    Extreme Poverty and Existential Obligations: Beyond Morality in the Anthropology of Africa? Social Analysis, 52(3), 33-50.

2007    Witchcraft and the Limits of Mass Mediation in Malawi. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13(2), 295-311.

2007    Pentecostalism beyond Belief: Trust and Democracy in a Malawian Township. Africa, 77(4), 477-499.

2005    Universal Africa. CODESRIA Bulletin, 3&4, 11.

2004    Gender Relations in African Language Literature: Interpretative Politics and Possibilities. African Sociological Review 8(1), 154-175.

2004    Cosmopolitanism and the Devil in Malawi. Ethnos, 69(3), 293-316.

2004    Towards a Critique of Rights Talk in New Democracies: The Case of Legal Aid in Malawi. Discourse & Society 15(5), 527-551.

2003    Christian Independency and Global Membership: Pentecostal Extraversions in Malawi. Journal of Religion in Africa, 33(1), 83-111.

2002    Ethnography after Globalism: Migration and Emplacement in Malawi. American Ethnologist, 29(2), 261-286.

2002    The Village in the City, the City in the Village: Migrants in Lilongwe. Journal of Southern African Studies, 28(1), 135-152.

2001    Chinyanja and the Language of Rights. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 10(3), 299-319.

2000    The Dead Hand of Human Rights: Contrasting Christianities in Post-Transition Malawi. Journal of Modern African Studies, 38(4), 579-603.

2000    Ethnography and the Meta-Narratives of Modernity (with James Leach). Current Anthropology, 41(2), 225-248.

2000    (Wo)man in War. Antropologiska Studier, 66-67, 61-73.

1999    The Self in Self-Interest: Land, Labour and Temporalities in Malawi’s Agrarian Change. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 69(1), 139-159.

1998    Death, Trauma and Ritual: Mozambican Refugees in Malawi. Social Science and Medicine, 46(9), 1165-1174.

1998    Culture, Environment and the Enemies of Complexity. Review of African Political Economy, 25(76), 179-188.

1996    Witchcraft, Modernity and the Person: The Morality of Accumulation in Central Malawi. Critique of Anthropology, 16(3), 257-279.

1996    Waiting for the Portuguese: Nostalgia, Exploitation and the Meaning of Land in the Malawi-Mozambique Borderland. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 14(2), 157-172.

Book chapters

2018    From the Extended-Case Method to Multi-Sited Ethnography (and Back). In M. Candea (ed.) Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory, 121-133. London and New York: Routledge.

2012    Poverty. In D. Fassin (ed.) A Companion to Moral Anthropology, 283-302. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

2012    Cutting Human Rights Down to Size. In M. Goodale (ed.) Human Rights at the Crossroads, 198-209. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2012    Human Rights and Village Headmen in Malawi: Translation beyond Vernacularization. In J. Eckert, B. Donahoe, C. Strümpell and Z. Özlem Biner (eds) Law against the State: Ethnographic Forays into Law’s Transformations, 70-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2011    The Anthropologist and His Poor. In E. Bornstein and P. Redfield (eds) Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism between Ethics and Politics, 71-93. Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press.

2011    Rethinking African Christianities: Beyond the Religion-Politics Conundrum. In H. Englund (ed.) Christianity and Public Culture in Africa, 1-24. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

2011    From Spiritual Warfare to Spiritual Kinship: Islamophobia and Evangelical Radio in Malawi. In H. Englund (ed.) Christianity and Public Culture in Africa, 167-188. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

2008    Human Rights and Moral Panics: Listening to Popular Grievances. In M. Goodale (ed.) The Anthropology of Human Rights: A Reader, 246-264. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. (Reprint of Chapter 7 in Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor)

2006    Transnational Governance and the Pacification of Youth: Civic Education and Disempowerment in Malawi. In B. Beckman  and G. Adeoti (eds) Intellectuals and African Development: Pretension and Resistance in African Politics , 124-155. London: Zed Books.

2005    Conflicts in Context: Political Violence and Anthropological Puzzles. In V. Broch-Due (ed.), Violence and Belonging: The Quest for Identity in Postcolonial Africa, 60-74. London: Routledge.

2004    Recognizing Identities, Imagining Alternatives. In H. Englund & F.B. Nyamnjoh (eds) Rights and the Politics of Recognition in Africa, 1-29. London: Zed Books.

2002    The Culture of Chameleon Politics. In H. Englund (ed.), A Democracy of Chameleons: Politics and Culture in the New Malawi, 11-24. Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute.

2001    The Quest for Missionaries: Transnationalism and Township Pentecostalism in Malawi. In A. Corten and R. Marshall-Fratani (eds), Between Babel and Pentecost: Transnational Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America, 235-255. London: Hurst & Co.

2001    Winning Elections, Losing Legitimacy: Multipartyism and the Neopatrimonial State in Malawi. In M. Cowen and L. Laakso (eds), Multiparty Elections in Africa, 172-186. Oxford: James Currey.

2001    The Politics of Multiple Identities: The Making of a Home Villagers’ Association in Lilongwe, Malawi. In A. Tostensen, I. Tvedt and M. Vaa (eds), Associational Life in African Cities: Popular Responses to the Urban Crisis, 90-106. Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute.

1996    Between God and Kamuzu: The Transition to Multiparty Politics in Central Malawi. In R. Werbner and T. Ranger (eds), Postcolonial Identities in Africa, 107-135. London: Zed Books.

Teaching and Supervisions

Professor of Social Anthropology
Fellow, Churchill College
Fellow of the British Academy
Office hours: appointment by email
Professor Harri  Englund

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