Livia Holden (PhD – School of Oriental and African Studies University of London) is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford, where she leads the European Research Council’s funded project Cultural Expertise in Europe: What is it useful for? (EURO-EXPERT). She is also tenured full professor at the university of Padua (on leave).

Prior to Oxford she was dean of the humanities and social sciences faculty and professor of anthropology at the Karakoram International University, professor of anthropology at Lahore University of Management Sciences, lecturer of international human rights and research fellow at  the Socio-Legal Research Centre at Griffith University, research fellow at Freie University, and visiting professor at Humboldt University Berlin and INALCO Paris.

She has been 2015/16 Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Nantes and 2016 Social Sciences Awardee by the Pakistan Inter-University Consortium for the Promotion of Social Sciences. She holds affiliations with the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California Berkeley and Otago University. 

Among her publications see: Hindu Divorce (Ashgate 2008 and Routldge 2013), Cultural Expertise and Litigation (Routledge 2011 and 2013), and Legal Pluralism and Governance in South Asia and Diasporas (Journal of Legal Pluralism 2013 and Routledge 2015). Among her co-authored documentary films see: Lady Judges of Pakistan (2013), The Paper Monster (2002), Doing Nothing Successfully (2003) and Runaway Wives (2000).


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  • Livia Holden, 'A woman in academia: … and what about the children?' in Black, Ali & Garvis, Susanne (ed), Lived Experiences of Women in Academia (Routledge 2018) (forthcoming)
    I have been academician in three continents and throughout six countries. The reoccurring question was: “… and what about the children?” People wanted to know what my children think about the life that we lead. I respond for the first time through a polyphonic narrative to share our experience as a family. I argue that the patriarchal expectations that negatively impacted on my life as mother and academician are linked with class. Hence, the apparent paradox between outdated gender expectations in the European middle class context and the uneventful combination of motherhood and career among the upper class in Pakistan.
  • Livia Holden, 'Khul divorce in Pakistan and diasporas' (2018) Quaderni Asiatici (forthcoming)
    This paper explores and analyses Muslim practices of khula in Pakistan and its treatment in the UK diaspora. On the basis of more than one hundred cases observed in the lower courts and published precedents at the higher courts, the author outlines the recurrent legal arguments developed regarding khula and their resulting legal outcomes. The author also draws from her own experience as expert in court for legal proceedings related to migration and asylum in which khula is received in the UK. The central question of this paper is whether khula is favourable to Muslim women. This paper responds by highlighting the connection between the current treatment of khula within Pakistani law courts and the public discourse on women’s rights. This paper shows that the pro-women arguments that are relevant in the Pakistani context may be relegated to the background in the legal proceedings developing in the context of diasporas - where formal aspects of khula become the object of primary attention. This paper concludes on the benefit of understanding in a concerted construction of knowledge with social actors, the instances contradicting, even if indirectly, the mainstream discourses on men’s exclusive initiative of Muslim divorce without however undermining the power dynamics that are at play even within pro-women interpretations of law.
  • Livia Holden and Emma Varley (eds), Law and Governance in Gilgit Baltistan (South Asian History and Culture 2018) (forthcoming)
  • Livia Holden, 'Divorce at the Woman’s Initiative in South Asia and in the Diasporas' in Rubya Mehdi, Werner Menski, Jørgen Choler Nielsen (ed), Interpreting Divorce Laws in Islam (DJØF: Copenhagen 2017)
  • Livia Holden, 'Divorcing by custom: Women’s agencies and lawyers' praxis in (un)official Hindu law' (2017) Indian Socio-Legal Journal
  • Livia Holden, 'Women’s Judges and Women’s Rights in Pakistan' (2017) vol. 7 Oñati Socio-legal Series
    Although the first appointment of women judges in Pakistan dates back to 1974, the significant appointment of “lady judges” in the past decade has caused a jump in female representation in the judiciary to more than one third in family courts – a quiet move that sends a message of adherence to the principle of gender equality as per the international treaties to which Pakistan is signatory. By investigating the everyday interactions and preoccupations of women judges in their daily management of justice, this paper explores the socio-legal reception of the human rights discourse from the perspective of the female judges. The challenge in this scenario is whether this change will only be formal or whether it will also lead to substantial and accountable justice. The findings here additionally elucidate how the global agenda impacts local expectations and conceptualizations of rights within and beyond the state.
  • Livia Holden, Legal Pluralism and Governance in South Asia and in the Diasporas (Taylor & Francis 2015)
  • Livia Holden and Azam Chaudhary , 'Daughter’s Inheritance, Legal Pluralism, and Governance in Pakistan' in Livia Holden (ed), Legal Pluralism and Governance in South Asia and in the Diasporas (Taylor & Francis 2013)
    This paper explores social actors’ arguments regarding daughters’ inheritance, their use in court, and the implications of legal pluralism on governance in Pakistan. It scrutinizes the notion of custom, non-state law, and positive law as crucial dynamics that shed light on the ways social actors make sense of power and governance. In Foucauldian terms, this paper deals with the formation of statements – their temporalization and their becoming but in particular sheds light on the potential logics of the perpetuation of gender discrimination in inheritance laws. This paper suggests that the everyday arguments that play a role in the elaboration of the story told to the courts and received by the judge have the role of actants. Within the framework of proceedings it is possible to isolate the micro-units on which the legal discourse is elaborated either for state- or non-state jurisdiction, or for both of them, not necessarily seen as antagonistic places, and not necessarily seen within a framework of justice and injustice. This paper concludes that notwithstanding polarized discourses on centralized and decentralized governance, everyday practices of law in Pakistan tend rather to perpetuate non-state law together with positive law as continuous and concomitant interlegalities in and beyond the state instead of exclusive and conflicting sources of legitimacy.
  • Livia Holden, 'Expert Report Writing: Professional Commitments and Legal Outcomes' in Livia Holden (ed), Cultural Expertise and Litigation: Patterns, Conflicts, Narratives (Routledge 2013)
  • Livia Holden, 'Reflexivity, Culture, and Ethics' (2013) Routledge Cultural Expertise and Litigation
  • Livia Holden, 'Bigamy/Polygamy' (2012) The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America
  • Livia Holden, 'Bribery and Graft' (2012) Encyclopedia of Transnational Crime and Justice
  • Livia Holden, 'Complicity of International Community (Witness of genocide: Romeo Dallaire' in (ed), Encyclopedia of Transnational Crime and Justice (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 2012)
  • Livia Holden, 'Criminology' (2012) The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America
  • Livia Holden, 'Fornication Laws' (2012) The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America
  • Livia Holden, 'Religion, Tradition, and Gender : Arguments for Divorce in South Asia and in the Diasporas' in Bulfoni, C. (ed), Tradizioni religiose e trasformazioni dell'Asia contemporanea (Asiatica Ambrosiana 2012)
  • Livia Holden, 'Rule of Law' (2012) The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America
  • Livia Holden, 'South Asia' (2012) Encyclopedia of Transnational Crime and Justice
  • Livia Holden (ed), Cultural Expertise and Litigation: Patterns, Conflicts, Narratives (Routledge 2011)
  • Livia Holden and Mehdi, Rubya (eds), Law and Corruption (Journal of Law and Social Research 2011)
  • Livia Holden and Mehdi, |Rubya (eds), Law and Corruption, Journal of Law and Social Research (Journal of Law and Social Research 2011)
  • Livia Holden, 'Divorce in Hindu law' (2009) Encyclopaedia of Legal History, Oxford University Press
  • Livia Holden, 'Marriage in Hindu law' (2009) Encyclopaedia of Legal History, Oxford University Press
  • Livia Holden, Hindu Divorce: A Legal Anthropology (Ashgate 2008)
  • Livia Holden and Tortora, Giovanni, 'Corrupted files: cross-fading defence strategies of a Vesuvian defence lawyer' in Nuijten, M. and Anders, G (eds), Anthropology of corruption and the secrets of law (Ashgate 2007)
  • Hannken-Illjes, Kati , Livia Holden, Kozin, Alexander and Scheffer, Thomas, 'Trial and error: Failing and learning in criminal proceedings' (2007) 20 International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 159
  • Livia Holden, 'Official policies for (un)official customs: the hegemonic treatment of Hindu divorce customs by dominant legal discourses' (2004) Journal of Legal Pluralism 47
  • Livia Holden, 'Tra diritto, consuetudini, e ideologie: Due avvocati di Shivpuri e il divorzio su iniziativa della donna in Madhya Pradesh' (2004) Quaderni Asiatici
  • Livia Holden, 'Custom and law practices in Central India: some case studies' (2003) South Asia Research 115
  • Livia Holden, 'Consommation rituelle et consommation physique. Le mariage hindou moderne entre dharma et pratiques coutumières' (2002) CNRS Images du corps dans le monde hindou
  • Livia Holden, 'Divorzio su iniziativa della donna e seconde nozze nel diritto indù: consuetudini e strategie nel distretto di Shivpuri (Madhya Pradesh)' (2002) Franco Angeli Il sub-continente indiano verso il terzo millennio. Trasformazioni socio-economiche, mutamento culturale e tensioni politiche
  • Livia Holden, 'India' (2002) The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America



Research projects

Research Interests

Expert wtinessing and cultural expertise, gender and judging, state- and non-state jurisdiction, Islamic law, Hindu law, anthropology of human rights.


Research projects