School of Social and Political Science

Tobias Kelly

Job Title

Professor of Political and Legal Anthropology

Toby Kelly photo

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Street (Address)

Chrystal Macmillan Building

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Research interests

Research interests

Political and legal anthropology, Political violence, Pacifism, Human rights, Anthopology of Britain, Historical Anthropology, Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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 (open in new windows) for more information:


Co-Director of Research for the School of Social and Poltical Science

Biographical statement

Tobias Kelly's research interests include human rights, war and peace, and political and legal anthropology. 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 leading an ERC Consolidator Grant that looks at the practical and political issues raised by attempts to protect freedom of conscience. More details can be found here. The research examines how claims of conscience are made culturally persuasive, at the meeting point of the apparently religious and secular, the intimate and the public. In doing so, it addresses questions of dissent and the politics of conviction. The wider project involves colleagues working on case studies from the UK, Sri Lanka and the former Soviet Union, as well as work on the role of conscience within the international human rights and humanitarian movement. His particular focus is on the history of claims of conscience in twentieth century Britain, starting with exemption from military service for socialist, anarchists and Christian pacifists, amongst others, and following through to examine the growth of modern human rights and humanitarianism, and the turn to legal claims of conscience by the religious right. As part of this project, he is writing a trade book on British conscientious objector that asks what their own turbulent lives can tell us about the ethical tensions of war and humanitarainism. The book is forthcoming from Chatto and Windus. He has also co-edited an Open Access book with colleagues examing the initmate life of dissent that is available for free from UCL Press.

He also works on issues related to torture and ill-treatment, and has broader interest in rethinking protection within the fields of human righs and humanitarianism, with a particular interest in the relationships between violence and and inequality. This has involved an ESRC/DfID funded project on the documentation of torture carried out in collaboration with researchers and practitioners in Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya and Denmark, that has sought understand the ways in which the poor are often excluded from human rights work. More recently he has been working with researchers and human practitioners in Kenya and Sri Lanka on a British Academy funded project looking at the meanings, limitations and possibilties of different forms of human rights protection from the perspective of people living in low-income neighbourhoods. This is being extended through AHRC funded research project with researchers and practitioners in Sri Lanka examing the diverse histories of front line protection work in response to violence that often exceeds and cuts across particular human rights and humanitarian approaches.

He is co-editor of Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and International Development, and editor of the Ethnographies of Political Violence series with University of Pennsylvania Press.

For a full list of publications, including Open Access Versions, 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

2020. The Intimate Life of Dissent: Anthropological Perspectives. (Co-edited with Harini Amarasuriya, Sidharthan Maunaguru, Galina Oustiniva-Stjepanovic and Jonathan Spencer). UCL Press, Open Access.

2018. Civility. Special Issue of Anthropological Theory (Co-edited with Sharika Thiranagama and Carlos Forment).

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

In Press. 'Justice, Conscience and War in Imperial Britain', Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

In Press. 'Pacifist Utopias: Humanitarianism, Complicity and Tragedy in the Second World War", Social Anthropology.

2018. 'A Divided Conscience: The Lost Convictions of Human Rights?', Public Culture 30(3): 367-392.

2017. 'Torture and Ill-Treatment Under Perceived: Human Rights Documentation and the Poor', Human Rights Quarterly 39(2): 394-415 (co-authrored with S. Jensen, M. Andersen, C. Christiansen and J. Sharma).

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.)

Sociolegal Studies

The Reading Lists below have been kindly provided by colleagues from across the UK, Europe, US and Australia, as part of a curriculum project funded by the ESRC. They cover Socio-Legal Studies in the broadest sense, including what is often referred to as Law and Society. They consist of a mixture of general reading lists, methods courses and reading lists on very specific topics in the field, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. They also include some Reading Lists with only some Socio-Legal component. If you have any Reading Lists that you would like to add to the resource, please send them to:

Law between Plato and the poets  (Sitze - Amherst College)

Psychoanalysis and Law (Sitze - Amherst College)

The crisis of neoliberal legal theory (Sitze - Amherst College)

Mental Health, Law and Policy Handout I (Bartlett - Nottingham)

Mental Health, Law and Policy Handout II (Bartlett - Nottingham)

Legal Issues in Health Care A, part I (Bartlett - Nottinghman)

Legal Issues in Health Care A, part II (Bartlett - Nottinghman)

System Justification (Jost - NYU)

Political Psychology (Jost - NYU)

Social Power (Jost - NYU)

Literature and Law, Theory and Practice A Case Study in Interdisciplinarity (MacAdam - Amherst College)

Natural Law (MacAdam - Amherst College)

Silence & Justice (MacAdam - Amherst College)

The Social Contract Rhetoric and Founding Law (MacAdam - Amherst College)

Utopia, Dystopia & the Law (MacAdam - Amherst College)

Globalization and Economic Justice I (Haglund - Arizona State)

Globalization and Economic Justice II (Haglund - Arizona State)

Human Rights and Sustainability (Haglund - Arizona State)

Domestic violence (Johnson - Arizona State)

Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights (Johnson - Arizona State)

Homicide and Serial Killers (Johnson - Arizona State)

Justice Theory Seminar (Johnson - Arizona State)

Myth of Rule of Law in DP (Johnson - Arizona State)

Witnessing a State Execution (Johnson - Arizona State)

Sociology of Law (Travers - Tasmania)

Sociology of Law (Liu - Wisconsin- Madison)

Punishment, Culture and Society (Simon - UC- Berkeley)

Memory and the Law (Loftus - UC -Irvine)

Seminar on Health Law and Social Policy (Law - NYU)

Law Faith and the Postcolonial (de Silva Wijeyeratne - Griffith)

Legal Research (Chynoweth - Salford)

Law in Society (Pirie and Galligan - Oxford)

Theory and Method in Socio-Legal Research (Lange - Oxford)

Property Law 1_Comparative Concepts (Drill - Griffith Law School)

Law of the Environment (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos - Westminster)

Law and Society (Coutin- UC- Irvine)

Socio-legal Seminar (Merry- NYU)

Advanced Legal Research and Law Reform (Blandy - Leeds)

Property Law (Ardill- Griffith) 

Law and Society: regulating communities (Cooper - Kent)

Gender and Crime (Duggan - Hallam,Sheffield)

Victimology (Duggan - Hallam,Sheffield)

Law in Action (Hunter - Kent) 

Many thanks to Anastasios Panagiotopoulos for his assistance in this project.