Staff profiles

Tobias Kelly

Tobias Kelly
Professor Tobias Kelly
Head of Social Anthropology
Social AnthropologySchool of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of Edinburgh
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: Tuesdays (during the teaching semester) 1-3pm, 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 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.

The second project will look at the practical, ethical and political issues raised by attempt to protect freedom of conscience. In particular, the work explores in the role of conscience in modern liberal politics, and the spaces that are available for non-violence in the midst of war.  The early focus of the research will be mid-twentieth century Britain, but this will eventually be extended to look at the notion of conscience in the international human rights movement more broadly. 

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


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.


Edited Collections

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

2011. Are Human Rights for Migrants?: Critical Reflections on the Status of Irregular Migrants in Europe and the United States. London: Routledge. (Co-edited with Marie-Bénédicte Dembour).  London: Routledge.

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

2007. Paths to International Justice: Social and Legal Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Co-edited with Marie-Bénédicte Dembour).

2006. Special Issue on 'State Violence', Critique of Anthropology 26(3). (Co-edited with Alpa Shah).


Selected Journal Articles

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.

2006. '"Jurisdictional Politics" in the Occupied West Bank: Territory, Community and Economic Dependency in the Formation of Legal Subjects', Law and Social Inquiry 31(1): 39-74.

2006. 'A Double Edged Sword: Protection and State Violence', Critique of Anthropology 26(2): 251-257. (Co-authored with Alpa Shah).

2005. 'Law, Culture and Access to Justice under the Palestinian National Authority', Development and Change 36(5): 865-886.

2004. 'Returning Home: Law, Violence and Displacement Among West Bank Palestinians', PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 27(2): 95-112; also available in Ethnography and Law (2007), Eve Darian-Smith (ed.). International Library of Essays in Law and Society, Aldershot: Ashgate; and in a slightly different form in Struggles for Home: Violence, Hope and the Movement of People (2009), Stef Jansen and Staffan Lofving (eds.). Oxford: Berghahn.


Selected Book Chapters

2010. 'In a Treacherous State: The Fear of Collaboration among West Bank Palestinians', in Sharika Thiranagama and Tobias Kelly (eds.) Traitors: Suspicion, Intimacy and the Ethics of State-Building. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

2009. 'The Refugee Factor in Two Protracted Conflicts: Cyprus and Palestine Compared', in Nathalie Tocci and Thomas Diez (eds.) Cyprus: A Conflict at the Crossroads. Manchester: Manchester University Press. (Co-authored with Peter Loizos).

2009. 'Laws of Suspicion: Legal Status, Space and the Impossibility of Separation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank', in Franz von Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Julia Eckert (eds.) Rules of Law and Laws of Ruling On the Governance of Law. Farnham: Ashgate.

2009. 'The Politics of Palestinian Legal Reform: Judicial Independence and Accountability under Occupation', in Andrew Jefferson and Steffen Jensen (eds.) State Violence and Human Rights: State Officials in the South. London: Routledge.

2008. 'Documents, Security and Suspicion: The Social Production of Ignorance', in Julia M. Eckert (ed.) The Social Life of Anti-Terrorism Laws: The War on Terror and the Classifications of the "Dangerous Other". Bielefeld: Transcript.

2007. 'Law and Disorder in the Palestinian West Bank: The Execution of Suspected Collaborators Under Israeli Occupation', in David Pratten and Atreyee Sen (eds.) Global Vigilantes. London: Hurst.

2002 'Introduction', to M. Mundy (ed.) Law and Anthropology, Ashgate: Dartmouth Press. (Co-authored with Martha Mundy).


Please follow this link for a collection of Reading Lists in Socio-legal Studies/Law and Society. 


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