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The Absence of Freedom

Debt, Bondage and Desire among Pakistani Brick Kiln Workers

Antonio De Lauri

Central and South Asian brick kilns have long attracted the attention of both humanitarian agencies and scholars as sites of slavery-like forms of labor exploitation. They represent both an important case study for investigating the systems of dependence and debt-relationships that characterize Southern Asian capitalism, and a big challenge to creating sustainable, international standards for human labor. One aspect largely overlooked in the literature concerns the ideas of freedom that emerge in situations of bondage. Based on ethnographic research conducted in brick kilns in the areas of Gujrat, Islamabad and Rawalpindi in 2015 and 2016, my analysis focuses on workers’ narratives and their perceptions of freedom and its absence.

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Anthropologists have long engaged communities and topics that are central to contemporary debates. Through ethnographic research, they aim to understand how people’s everyday lives are shaped by and in turn shape larger structural forces. However, although cultural and social anthropology have produced many insights to help us understand the world in which we live, anthropologists have mostly turned their conceptual and therefore ethical gaze inward, with few notable exceptions. Public Anthropologist, an international, peer-reviewed journal, opens the possibility for dialogue and debates that are timely and socially and politically challenging. It creates a hybrid, critical space between the ponderous nature of traditional academic journals and the immediacy of blogs, newspapers, and experts’ accounts. The journal examines the issues of our time in a way that both encourages and scrutinizes a diverse range of shifts outwards from the purely academic realm towards wider publics and counter-publics engaged in cultural and political exchanges and collective collaborations for change. This approach implicitly interrogates the implications and expectations of anthropology’s public presence.

Public Anthropologist boldly and candidly confronts conditions of violence, inequality, and injustice and explores ways in which anthropology might generate public awareness and have an impact on political change. The journal is interested in the space in which newspapers, television, political actors, new media, activists, experts, and academics continually mobilize positions that support or challenge dominant narratives.

The editors believe it is time to definitively push anthropology beyond its association with elitism (and its colonial legacy) and to make it relevant not only for understanding cultural difference, but also for making a difference.

In its journey into the dilemmas and challenges of the contemporary world, Public Anthropologist avoids standardizing intellectual efforts into specifically formatted articles. Rather, it welcomes diversity and creative writing. Articles published in the journal should be accessible yet authoritative, appealing yet not sensationalist. A submission must be the work of a specialist, but without jargon; methodologically rigorous, and yet politically engaging.

The editors invite articles and special issues committed to making anthropology speak directly to other scholars and to the wider public on issues related to war, rights, poverty, security, access to resources, new technologies, freedom, human exploitation, health, humanitarianism, violence, racism, migration and diaspora, crime, social class, hegemony, environmental challenges, social movements, and activism. We encourage both ethnographic and more theoretical submissions. Although the journal mainly focuses on contemporary issues, we also welcome submissions that adopt a historical perspective. In addition, submissions of interviews or conversations between anthropologists and journalists, activists, political actors, or artists on different topics at the core of the journal’s interests will be considered. The journal also publishes reviews of books, films, and documentaries that deal with relevant challenges and opportunities of our time and encourages reviews of both scholarly works and fictional literature as well as the work of activists, journalists, and artists. Reviews of non-English materials may be submitted.

Public Anthropologist addresses a broad readership of social and cultural anthropologists, sociologists, ethnographers, political scientists, social and cultural historians, political historians, political actors, policy makers, activists, journalists, and artists.

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For editorial queries and proposals, please contact the editor-in-chief, Antonio De Lauri.

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The editors of Public Anthropologist are aware of both the advantages and the limits of blind peer review. In order to promote dynamic exchanges among authors and reviewers, the journal offers “sighted” peer review as an option alongside double-blind peer review. Sighted peer review asks scholars to engage in an open, scientific dialogue. The overall aim is to transform the review process into an open exchange similar to that of a seminar.

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Articles will be initially reviewed by members of the editorial team for intrinsic quality, coherence with the aims of the journal, and original contribution to anthropological debates and the advancement of the field. Some submissions will be rejected outright or will be returned with comments and with the recommendation to revise and resubmit. Articles that receive mostly favourable reviews by editorial team members will be reviewed by specialists on the subject. Reviewers will know the names of the authors and will be asked to provide comments and suggestions for minor or more extensive revisions. In turn, authors will know the names of reviewers and will have the opportunity to reply. All exchanges will be monitored and moderated by members of the editorial team. If the editorial team considers comments or responses to be affected by bias or to be expressed in an inappropriate manner, they will request that they be amended or will not forward them. This open review mechanism is based on responsibility, right (to dissent or agree), and awareness.