Dr Dena Freeman

Senior visiting fellow

Department of Anthropology

Amharic, English
Key Expertise
Globalisation, Inequality, Religion, Ethiopia

About me

Dr Dena Freeman’s work focusses on globalization, development, inequality, religion and democracy. It takes a holistic approach, considering issues of political-economy alongside less tangible matters such as values, sociality and religion. It is fundamentally multi-scalar, uncovering the connections and interactions between local, national and global processes.

Her most recent project, Global Dynamics of Inequality: An Interdisciplinary Examination of the ‘Decoupling’ of the Political and the Economic, which she carried out in association with the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute, explores the de-democratisation of economic policy in contemporary neoliberal globalization. The research traces the historical relationship between the ‘political’ and the ‘economic’ in Europe from 1800, as both capitalism and democracy developed. In the period from 1800-1945 the spheres of political decision-making and of economic activity were largely separate as most people, whether in Europe or the colonies, had no political voice regarding the economic policies that were implemented. It was only in Europe in the ‘Golden Age’ from 1945-1970 that the spheres of the political and the economic came to largely ‘overlap’ – as many countries instituted universal suffrage and economic activity retracted and became centred on the national level. And it was in this context, and only in this context, that rates of economic inequality declined. Since the 1970s neoliberalism, financialisation and globalisation are leading again to the de-coupling of the political and the economic and again rates of economic inequality are rising. Freeman explores the mechanisms through which this is taking place and argues that in order to tackle inequality it is necessary to re-democratise the economic at both national and global levels. The research thus also explores the need for, and the challenges of, global democracy.

Following on from this, she is currently beginning ethnographic explorations of the contentious politics of contemporary global governance processes in a range of forums, such as the United Nations (particularly the processes around the Sustainable Development Goals, and also the attempts at the Human Rights Council to establish international law to regulate transnational corporations)  and also the G20 and its ‘engagement groups’.

She has also worked extensively on issues of religion and development. Her most recent book, Tearfund and the Quest for Faith-Based Development  (Routledge, 2019), looks at the UK’s largest faith-based development agency and explores the ways in which a faith-based approach shapes both its conceptualizations of development and the nature of the work that it carries out in the field. It charts the internal discussions and dilemmas about theology, development practices and humanitarian standards that took place over a fifty year history as Tearfund transformed from quasi-missionary agency, into a major relief and development NGO, and then re-oriented itself into a ‘faith-based organisation’. She has also written about other evangelical social justice organisations, including the Micah Challenge, a transnational evangelical advocacy campaign for the Millennium Development Goals. 

A previous book, Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) , looks at the way in which Pentecostalism, one of the fastest growing religious forms in much of the global South,  articulates with local development processes. It explores the ways in which Pentecostal belief and practice can lead to new values and forms of sociality, which in turn can lead to changes in economic behaviour. It also compares Pentecostal churches and secular NGOs as different types of contemporary development agents and discerns the different ways in which they bring about change. Central to this work is an exploration of processes of individual and social transformation, and their relevance to understandings of the successes and failures of local level development. 

Dena is actively involved in a number of national and international research networks and programs on religion and development. She is on the Steering Committee of the AHRC Research Network Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals and is a Senior Fellow in the Fellows Program on Religion and Development in the Global South at the Centre for Religion, Politics and Economics at the University of Basel, Switzerland. She is also a member of the European Research Network on Global Pentecostalism

Her earlier work looked at the dynamics of cultural transformation in the Gamo Highlands of southern Ethiopia. It brought together anthropological and historical perspectives to explore processes of politico-ritual transformation and the construction of inequality in rural communities. It led to her first book Initiating Change in Highland Ethiopia: Causes and Consequences of Cultural Transformation (Cambridge University Press, 2002) 

Her second book, Peripheral People: The Excluded Minorities of Ethiopia (Hurst, 2003), which she edited with Alula Pankhurst, is a comparative study of outcaste occupational groups and issues of marginalisation in Ethiopia. A local Ethiopian edition was later published by Addis Abeba University Press.

Further ethnographic work in Ethiopia has explored issues of happiness, wellbeing, development, markets and moralities, religious change and regional patterns of cultural variation.  

Dena has carried out consultancies for a wide range of organisations in the fields of international development and corporate social responsibility (CSR), including The Fairtrade Foundation, The Ethical Trading Initiative, CARE International, FARM-Africa, SOS-Sahel, Sustainable Livelihood Action,  the International Rescue Committee (IRC), as well as a number of companies in the clothing and agricultural sectors. She is also active in a number of NGOs, including Grassroots Ethiopia and One World: Movement for Global Democracy.

She received a BA in Anthropology from the University of Cambridge (1994) and a PhD from the LSE (1999). She has been a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at UCL. Prior to that she was a Junior Research Fellow at Queens' College, Cambridge and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. She was awarded the Curl Essay Prize by the Royal Anthropological Institute in 2000 and the Firth Prize by the LSE Department of Anthropology in 1998.

During Lent Term 2018 she was a Visiting Professor in the Department of History, Culture and Religion at the University of Rome Sapienza.


Expertise Details

Globalisation; Inequality; Religion; Ethiopia

Selected publications


Dynamics of Democracy and Inequality in the Context of Globalisation. Lecture given at the International Inequalities Institute Seminar, LSE, March 2017. Listen here.

North-South Struggles over Financing for Development: State, Society and Market in the Global Age. Public Lecture given at the Global South Studies Centre, University of Cologne, Germany. July 2017. Listen here.  


2019. Tearfund and the Quest for Faith-Based Development. London: Routledge.

2012. Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa. London: Palgrave Macmillan.  Read a review here.

2003. Peripheral People: The Excluded Minorities of Ethiopia. London: Hurst. (Edited with Alula Pankhurst). Read the Conclusion here.

2002. Initiating Change in Highland Ethiopia: Causes and Consequences of Cultural Transformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Read the Introduction here

Selected Articles and Chapters

2020. Mission, Development and ‘Reverse Mission’ in Europe-Africa Religious Relations. In Africa-Europe Relations: A Multi-Stakeholder Perspective, edited by Raffaele Marchetti. London: Routledge. (in press) 

2020. Politics and Theology in the Micah Challenge Campaign for the Millennium Development Goals. In Faith Based Organizations in Development Discourses and Practices edited by Jens Koehrsen and Andreas Heuser. London: Routledge. (in press)

2018. North-South Struggles on Financing for Development: State, Society and Market in the Global Age. Global Policy, 9, 3: 377-386. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/88036/ 

2018. De-Democratisation and Rising Inequality: The Underlying Cause of a Worrying Trend. Global Society, 32, 2: 344-364. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/88038/

2018. From ‘Christians doing Development’ to ‘Doing Christian Development’:  The Changing Role of Religion in the International Work of Tearfund. Development in Practice, 28, 2: 280-291. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/88039/ 

2017 The Global South at the UN: Using International Politics to Re-Vision the Global. The Global South, 11, 2: 71-91. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/88037/

2017. Affordances of Rupture and their Enactment: A Framework for Understanding Christian Change. Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 42, 4: 3-24. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/88040/

2015. Techniques of Happiness: Moving Toward and Away from the Good Life in Rural EthiopiaHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 5, 3: 157-176.

2015. Pentecostalism and Economic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In The Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global Development, edited by Emma Tomalin. London: Routledge.

2013. Pentecostalism in a Rural Context: Dynamics of Religion and Development in Southwest EthiopiaPentecoStudies 12,2: 231-249.

2013. Value Chains for Development: An Ethnography of Pro-Poor Market Interventions in EthiopiaAnthropology of This Century. Issue 6. 

2013. A Revolution of Consciousness: The Social Justice Protests in Israel. Bulletin of the Council for British Research in the Levant.

2012. The Pentecostal Ethic and the Spirit of Development. In Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa, edited by Dena Freeman. London: Palgrave Macmillan.  

2012. Development and the Rural Entrepreneur: Pentecostals, NGOs and the Market in the Gamo Highlands, EthiopiaIn Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa, edited by Dena Freeman. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

2009. Development and (Un)happiness: A Case Study from Rural Ethiopia. In Gross National Happiness: Practice and Measurement, edited by K. Ura & D. Penjore. Centre for Bhutan Studies, Thimpu.

2006. Who are the D’ache? And Who are the Gamo?: Confusions of Ethnicity in Ethiopia’s Southern Highlands. In Proceedings of the 15th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, edited by Siebert Uhling. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. 

2003. Homeworkers in Global Supply Chains. Greener Management International, 43:1-12.

2003. Understanding Marginalisation in Ethiopia. In Peripheral People: The Excluded Minorities of Ethiopia, edited by Dena Freeman & Alula Pankhurst. London: Hurst.

2003. Change and Development: Lessons from the Twentieth Century. In Peripheral People: The Excluded Minorities of Ethiopia, edited by Dena Freeman & Alula Pankhurst. London: Hurst. (with Alula Pankhurst)

2002. From Warrior to Wife: Cultural Transformation in the Gamo Highlands of EthiopiaJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8:34-44.  

2000. The Generation of Difference: Initiations in Gamo, Sidamo and Boran (Oromo). Northeast African Studies, 7,3 (N.S):35-57. 

2000. Cultural Variation in Southern Ethiopia: An Introduction. Northeast African Studies, 7,3 (N.S):15-20.

My research