Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor (California Series in Public Anthropology)
In this vivid ethnography, Harri Englund investigates how ideas of freedom impede struggles against poverty and injustice in emerging democracies. Reaching beyond a narrow focus on the national elite, Prisoners of Freedom shows how foreign aid and human rights activism hamper the pursuit of democratic citizenship in Africa. The book explores how activists’ aspirations of self-improvement, pursued under harsh economic conditions, find in the human rights discourse a new means to distinguish oneself from the poor masses. Among expatriates, the emphasis on abstract human rights avoids confrontations with the political and business elites. Drawing on long-term research among the Malawian poor, Englund brings to life the personal circumstances of Malawian human rights activists, their expatriate benefactors, and the urban and rural poor as he develops a fresh perspective on freedomone that recognizes the significance of debt, obligation, and civil virtues.
"This is an exceptionally interesting and well researched book on a topic of enormous importance. It brings careful ethnographic fieldwork to bear on the new 'culture of rights' that has developed in democratized post-colonial African states such as Malawi, and by doing...