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Department of Social Anthropology





I am a social anthropologist who engages received wisdom from canonical thinkers on issues of human rights, freedom, obligation, and equality with the ethnographic and historical study of their vernacular forms. This has involved research in various religious, economic, and political contexts in Africa as well as in African-European encounters.  


I began my research in Africa in the early 1990s when a wave of democratisation swept across the continent. This formative period sparked my enduring interest in topics such as liberal reformism, democracy, human rights, moral obligation, freedom, and equality. Studying these topics in their vernacular forms has involved fieldwork with refugees, smallholder farmers, human rights activists, slum dwellers, local politicians, Pentecostal Christians, radio journalists, and spoken-word poets.  A key thread running through my work with these diverse people has been the question of what might be learned about apparently universal issues such as human rights, freedom, obligation, and equality if approached from their perspectives rather than those of canonical texts and thinkers. It has been based on a decades-long commitment to work through an African language (Chichewa / Chinyanja).

In recent years, I have increasingly turned my attention to history in pursuit of related themes. A Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship proved a catalyst by enabling me to immerse in archival work. The bulk of that project concerned the linguistic, spiritual, and humanitarian work done by nineteenth-century Scottish missionaries in present-day Malawi. A central finding was the vision for racial equality that David Clement Scott was developing at a time when the British colonial occupation and Cecil Rhodes’s commercial interests were taking the region to another direction entirely. My intent is to continue researching such little-known figures in colonial and imperial history and their perspectives on race relations and humanity. I am currently developing a project on encounters between Finns and Africans at the turn of the twentieth century.

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

Research interests

Central and Southern Africa; Northern Europe; colonialism, humanitarianism and human rights; African-language political and moral thought; mass mediation, radio and voice; historical anthropology; biography; political and moral economy.


Authored books

2022  Visions for Racial Equality: David Clement Scott and the Struggle for Justice in Nineteenth-Century Malawi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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).


2021    Love and Homophobia in Malawi’s Spoken-Word Poetry Movement. Africa, 91(3), 361-387.

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
Office hours: appointment by email
Professor Harri  Englund

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