The burden of choice and the triumph of the event: Freedom in the Yemeni revolution

Ross Porter


In the anthropology of ethics there has been a growing interest in the concept of freedom, defined as the tool of consciousness that enables people to reflect on themselves and their circumstances, and make decisions about what they ought to do. The benefit of understanding freedom as a grounded ethical practice is that it allows us to appreciate how people constitute themselves through the choices they make. What this obscures, however, is an understanding of how freedom figures in situations where people no longer feel the need to consider what they ought to do and where choice becomes redundant. Through an exploration of nonviolent action in the 2011 Yemeni revolution, this essay proposes a notion of freedom as liberation from moral choice, where choice is a burden. It concludes by reconsidering the extent to which ethical thought can adequately account for the varieties of human freedom in different ethnographic contexts.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/715753