Prof. Julie Billaud

Designation: Professor of Anthropology, IHEID

Professor Julie Billaud joined the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies in 2019. 

She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Sussex and a PhD in Sociology from Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. She is a legal and political anthropologist who has held positions in the UK (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.

Julie has carried out ethnographic research in Afghanistan short after the fall of the Taliban regime to study the reconstruction process from the perspective of various groups of women who were the target of ‘empowerment’ programs. The book that came out of this research, Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan (2015, Pennsylvania University Press), documents 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 study explores notions of morality, citizenship and multiculturalism from the standpoint of these emerging legal field and 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, this research 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 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.

Fields of interest

  • Armed conflicts, violence
  • Development, Aid policies
  • Gender, women and public policies
  • Globalisation
  • Governance
  • Human rights
  • Humanitarian action
  • International organisations, UN

List of publications



  • 2015. Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan. University of Pennsylvania Press. Series: The Ethnography of Political Violence (edited by Tobias Kelly)


Special issues

  • (with Jane Cowan) ‘The Bureaucratization of Utopia: Ethics, Affects and Subjectivities in International Governance Processes’. Special issue of Anthropologie Sociale/Social Anthropology. (Issue under preparation)
  • December 2017. ‘Introduction’. Special issue of Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions on “La circulation du référentiel islamique en Europe: Espace public, éthique ordinaire et economies morales”. Vol 179(4).
  • December 2017. ‘Mariage chariah style: Pratiques quotidiennes de l’éthique islamique en Angleterre’. Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions. Special issue on ‘La circulation du référentiel islamique en Europe’. Vol 179(4).



  • 2012. L’Islam d’Occident. Introduction à l’étude des musulmans des sociétés occidentales. Rachid Id Yassine. Perpignan. Editions Halfa.


Chapters in collective books:

  • 2019. Political Awakening. International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Hilary Calan (eds). Wiley.
  • 2016. « The ‘Public’ Character of the Universal Periodic Review : Contested Concept and Methodological Challenge ». (with Jane Cowan). In Palaces of Hope : The Anthropology of Global Institutions. Ronald Niezen and Maria Sapignoli (dir.). Cambridge University Press (sous contrat). 20 pages.
  • 2015. ‘Humanitarian Theater: The Ordinary and the Carnivalesque in Afghanistan’. (co-written with Antonio De Lauri). In The Politics of Humanitarianism: Power, Ideology, Aid. Antonio de Lauri (eds). London. I.B. Tauris.
  • 2015. ‘Cosmetics, Fashion and Moral Panics: the Politics and Ethics of Beauty in a Girls’ Dormitory in Kabul’. In Asian Muslim Women: Globalization and Local Realities. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh (eds). SUNY Press.
  • 2014. ‘Keepers of the ‘truth’: Producing ‘transparent’ documents for the Universal Periodic Review’. In Human Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: Rituals and Ritualism. Hilary Charlesworth and Emma Larking (eds). Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
  • 2014. ‘Arrêts sur image sur l’islam britannique.’ In En-quête d’Islam en Europe. Göle, N (Ed). Perpignan. Editions Halfa.
  • 2014. ‘A Simple Way of Getting to Paradise’: Ethics and Affects in British Shari’ah Councils. In Islam and Public Controversy in Europe. Göle, N (Ed). London. Ashgate.
  • 2011. ‘Islamic Difference and the Return of Feminist Universalism’ in European Multiculturalism(s): Cultural, Religious and Ethnic Challenges. Tryandifillidou, A,. Modood, T., and Meer, N. (eds). University of Edinburg Press. Emilie books (with Nilüfer Göle).


Journal articles (peer reviewed):

  • 2020. ‘Masters of Disorder: Rituals of Communication and Monitoring at the International Committee of the Red Cross’. In Special issue “The Bureaucratisation of Utopia’. Anthropologie Sociale/Social Anthropology. Vol 28(1)
  • 2019 (2018). “Marriage shariah style: Everyday Practices of Islamic Morality in England”. Contemporary Islam. Vol 13(2). First online
  •  2016. “Afterword: A Post-Human Rights Anthropology of Human Rights”. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review Online, November 2016.
  • 2016. No Wonder! Kingship and the Every Day at the Max Planck Society. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Vol 6(1).
  • 2016. Snapshots of British Islam: Exploring Self, identity and the Good Ethical Life in the Global Megalopolis. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Vol 45(5).
  • 2015. Between learning and Schooling: The Politics of Human Rights Monitoring at the Universal Periodic Review”. Third World Quarterly. (With Jane Cowan).Vol 36(6). Special issue edited by Louiza Odysseos and Anna Selmeczi: ‘The Power of Rights and/or the Rights of Power in Global Politics’.
  • 2013. Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism. French Culture, Politics and Society (with Julie Castro). Volume 31(2).
  • 2012 (June). Suicidal Performances: Voicing Discontent in a Girls’ Dormitory in Kabul. Culture, Medicine, Psychiatry. Volume 36(2). Special issue ‘ethnographies of suicide’
  • 2012 (June). The Making of Modern Afghanistan: Reconstruction, Transnational Governance and Gender Politics in the New Islamic Republic. Anthropology of the Middle East. Volume 7(1). Special issue ‘ethnographies of Afghanistan’.
  • 2009 (November). Visible under the Veil: Performance, Veiling and Agency in an Islamic public space. Journal of International Women’s Studies. Volume 11(1). Special issue ‘Women in Islam’.


Academic blogs (peer reviewed):


Public engagement:

2020 (23 Mars). Coronavirus: Moins d’humanitaire, plus de politique. Le Temps. Also available in English on Allegra Lab
2020 (30 Avril). Inventing a Breathing Planet Post-Covid 19. Heidi News (pocket lecture)
2020 (6 Mai). “It’s a moment of collective reflection”. Geneva Solutions. Interview.