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, and the G20 and its ‘engagement groups’.
She has also worked extensively on issues of religion and development. Her 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.
Her work has also focused on religious development organisations, particularly Evangelical ones, and sought to understand how a faith-based approach shapes both their particular conceptualizations of development and the nature of the work that they carry out in the field, in the political sphere, and with their supporters. This includes a study of Tearfund, the UK’s largest Evangelical development NGO, and of the Micah Challenge, a transnational Evangelical advocacy campaign for the Millennium Development Goals. She is currently working on her next book, provisionally entitled Campaigning for Social Justice: Faith-Based Transnational Advocacy for the Millennium Development Goals.
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. She has also carried out fieldwork in Israel, looking at the social justice protests that erupted in the months after the Arab Spring and before Occupy Wall Street.
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 and in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she was also a Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. 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 will be a Visiting Professor in the Department of History, Culture and Religion at the University of Rome Sapienza.