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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Tobias Kelly

Tobias Kelly
Professor Tobias Kelly
Head of Social Anthropology
5.10 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (131) 650 3986
Research Interests
Political and legal anthropology, Political violence, Pacifism, Human rights, Anthopology of Britain, Historical Anthropology, Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Guidance and Feedback hours: Monday 2-4pm during teaching semester, or email for an appointment.

Biographical statement

Tobias Kelly's research interests include human rights, political and legal anthropology, and modern British cultural history. He has carried out ethnographic and archival research in Israel/Palestine, the UK and at the UN. He received a PhD in Anthropology from the London School of Economics in 2003, and has worked at the Institute of Law of Birzeit University, the Crisis States Programme at the LSE, and the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford University.

He is currently in the early stages of two research projects. The first project, funded by an ESRC/DfID grant, extends previous work on the documentation of torture, and is a collaboration with researchers and practitioners in Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya and Denmark. More specifically, the project examines the issues involved in documenting torture and ill-treatment in countries marked by poverty and low institutional capacity. As such, it explores the production of evidence, and the ways in which the poor can be excluded from human rights work.

The second project, funded as an ERC Consolidator grant, looks at the practical, ethical and political issues raised by attempts to protect freedom of conscience.  Case studies from the UK, Sri Lanka and the former Soviet Union, will be combined with work on the history of conscience within the international human rights movement. The project examines how claims of conscience are made culturally persuasive, at the meeting point of the apparently religious and secular, the intimate and the public.

He is editor of the Ethnographies of Political Violence series with University of Pennsylvania Press.

For a full list of publications please see Edinburgh Research Explorer

Selected Publications


2012. This Side of Silence: Human Rights, Torture and the Recognition of Cruelty. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

2006. Law, Violence and Sovereignty among West Bank Palestinians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Selected Edited Collections

2015. The Clinic and the Court: Law, Medicine and Anthropology. Cambridge University Press. (Co-edited with Ian Harper and Akshay Khanna).

2010. Traitors: Suspicion, Intimacy and the Ethics of State-Building. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. (Co-edited with Sharika Thiranagama).

Selected Journal Articles

2015. 'Citizenship, Cowardice and Freedom of Conscience: British Pacifists in the Second World War', Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(3): 694-722.

2012. 'Sympathy and Suspicion: Torture, Asylum and Humanity in the UK', (Malinowski Memorial Lecture). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(4): 253-268.

2011. 'What We Talk about When We Talk About Torture: A Review Essay', Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development 2(2): 327-343.

2011. 'The Cause of Human Rights: Doubts About Torture, Law and Ethics at the United Nations',  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17(4): 728-744.

2009. 'The UN Commitee Against Torture: Human Rights Monitoring and the Legal Recognition of Torture', Human Rights Quarterly 31(3): 777-800.

2008. 'The Attractions of Accountancy: Living an Ordinary Life during the Second Palestinian Intifada', Ethnography 9(3): 351-376.

2006. 'Documented Lives: Fear and the Uncertainties of Law During the Second Palestinian Intifada', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(1): 89-107.

2004. 'Returning Home: Law, Violence and Displacement Among West Bank Palestinians', PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 27(2): 95-112. 


Best Practice Guide

My colleague Anthony Good and I, with advice from a group of Immigration Judges, barristers and solicitors suggested by the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, have produced a guide for anthropologists and other 'country experts' who may be asked to write expert reports in connection with immigration and asylum appreals in the UK. Read and download it here.

(We welcome the reproduction of this publication for the purposes of representation, education and training, provided that no charge is made for use of the material and the source of the information is acknowledged.)

Topics interested in supervising

I am interested in supervising PhDs that look at human rights, political anthropology, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, political violence and pacifism.

If you are interested in being supervised by Tobias Kelly, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Social Anthropology