Julie Billaud


Associate professor, Anthropology and sociology
Spoken languages
French, English
Areas of expertise
  • Armed conflicts, violence
  • Development, Aid policies
  • Gender, women and public policies
  • Globalisation
  • Governance
  • Human rights
  • Humanitarian action
  • International organisations, UN
Geographical Region of Expertise
  • Central Asia


PhD from University of Sussex and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
Julie Billaud is a legal and political anthropologist who has held positions in the United Kingdom (University of Sussex), France (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) and Germany (Humboldt University and Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) prior to joining the Graduate Institute in 2019. She is the author of Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan (2015, Pennsylvania University Press). The book is an ethnographic study of the “reconstruction process” in post 9/11 Afghanistan carried out among various groups of women targeted by “empowerment” projects. It focuses on the politics of humanitarianism and legal reform, unpacking the tensions and contradictions that arise when competing understandings of “democracy” and “human rights” confront each other in a global humanitarian theater.

After her PhD, she redirected her attention to Islam in Europe and the contemporary transformations of the European public sphere through its encounter with Islamic difference. Based on fieldwork in London in shariah councils, law firms specialising in Islamic law, the 2013 World Islamic Economic Forum, and the flourishing Muslim marriage industry, the research documents everyday practices of Islamic law in Britain. It highlights how state interventions participate in contradictory ways in the making of a legal field, which is both embraced for its commercial potential and contested due to its supposed discrimination against women. More generally, the study explores notions of morality, citizenship and multiculturalism from the standpoint of these emerging religious claims.

More recently, she collaborated with Jane Cowan (University of Sussex) on an ethnographic study of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism of human rights monitoring within the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Drawing inspiration from the anthropological literature on international organisations, bureaucracy and audit cultures, the study examines the interactions, knowledge practices, institutional codes and norms, and documentation processes embedded in this complex assemblage of administrative procedures, technologies and transnational actors.

From February 2016 until February 2018, she was hired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva to carry out an ethnographic study of its “diplomatic culture”. The fieldwork for this research was conducted at the headquarters in Geneva and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Georgia/Abkhazia, Israel-Palestine and Northern Ireland. The study explores the negotiations practices of delegates who seek to implement the mandate of the ICRC as “guardian of the Geneva conventions”. Focusing on protection delegates’ working practices, moral dilemmas and affects, it seeks to unpack the transformations of professional cultures and subjectivities triggered by increasing administrative pressures related to impact measurement and evidence-based programming.

At the Institute, Professor Billaud teaches the Anthropology of Human Rights (ANSO) and Comparative Humanitarianism: Anthropological Perspective (MINT).

Research project and Publications 



Articles and book chapters


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