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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Human Rights, African Alternatives: Witchcraft and the Public Sphere

On the basis of anthropological fieldwork in Malawi, Dr Harri Englund investigates the effects of a particular human rights administration on discussions about poverty and inequality. Dr Englund’s previous research demonstrated that the concept of human rights had assumed an individualist and legalist content among both politicians and activists in Malawi. While their commitment to civil and political liberties facilitated major changes after three decades of autocracy, it offered few tools to address the causes of poverty. A major objective of Dr Englund’s current programme is to examine whether interdependencies and obligations provide a perspective on alternatives to this impasse. This objective involves taking seriously both liberal rights talk and the religious and witchcraft discourses that the media increasingly spreads in many parts of Africa.

The main objectives are:

  1. To investigate popular alternatives to human rights talk in a new democracy;
  2. To develop a concept of the public sphere attuned to contemporary African circumstances;
  3. To develop a fresh perspective on witchcraft discourse in contemporary Africa;
  4. To bring ethnographic nuance to the study of electronic media; and
  5. To engage aid practitioners and policy-makers in fresh debate on liberal governance