Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Manor Road,

Other affiliations


01865 284245


Prof. 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) and a project funded by Global Challenges Research Funds, UK Gender Sensitisation for Judicial Education in Pakistan and Indonesia. She is tenured full professor at the university of Padua (on leave) and Research Associate at the Centre of History and Anthropology of Law (CHAD) at Paris Ouest. She is SCR Member and College Advisor at St Antony's College.

She regularly provides expert opinions for cases pertaining to immigration law, family law, and criminal law in the United Kingdom, United States and the Netherlands.

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 most significant publications see: Hindu Divorce (Ashgate 2008 and Routldge 2013), Cultural Expertise and Litigation (Routledge 2011 and 2013), and Cultural Expertise and Socio-Legal Studies, Special issue for Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, (Emerald 2019).

Among her co-authored documentary films with Marius Holden see: Lady Judges of Pakistan (2013), The Paper Monster (2002), Doing Nothing Successfully (2003) and Runaway Wives (2000).

Among her recent publications see also: A Woman in Academia ... and what about the children? (Routledge 2018); Women Judges in Pakistan (International Journal of the Legal Profession 2018); Law, Culture and Governance in Hunza, in NAVEIÑ REET: Nordic Journal of Law & Social Research no. 8, 2018; and Law, Governance, and Culture in Gilgit Baltistan, special issue for the Journal of South Asian History and Culture (2019).


Displaying 1 - 43 of 43. Sorted by year, then title.
Filter by
  • Livia Holden, 'Beyond anthropological expert witnessing: Toward an integrated definition of cultural expertise' (2019) Studies in Law, Politics and Society, Austin Sarat Series
    This chapter explores expert witnessing in anthropology and the raison d’être of cultural expertise as an integrated socio-legal concept that accounts for the contribution of social sciences to the resolution of disputes and the protection of human rights. The first section of this chapter provides a short historical outline of the occurrence and reception of anthropological expertise as expert witnessing. The second section surveys the theoretical reflections on anthropologists’ engagement with law. The third section explores the potential for anthropological expertise as a broader socio-legal notion in the common law and civil law legal systems. The chapter concludes with the opportunity and raison d’être of cultural expertise grounded on a skeptical approach to culture. It suggests that expert witnessing has been viewed mainly from a technical perspective of applied social sciences, which was necessary to set the legal framework of cultural experts’ engagement with law, but had the consequence of entrenching the impossibility of a comprehensive study of anthropological expert witnessing. While this chapter adopts a skeptical approach to culture, it also argues the advantages of an interdisciplinary approach that leads to an integrated definition of cultural expertise.
  • Livia Holden, 'Cultural Expertise against the Danger of Judicial Populism in Italy: Italian Supreme Court of Cassation, 12.11.2009, no. 6587, on so-called "Honour Killings"' in Irene Spigno and Ilenia Ruggiu (eds), Justice and Culture. Legal arguments to deal with multicultural disputes (Napoli: Editoriale Scientifica 2019)
    This article revolving around a so-called honour killing dating back to 2009 in Italy, interrogates the potential role of cultural expertise, had the court availed the use of an expert. In order to proceed to this scrutiny a short theoretical outline of the emergent concept of cultural expertise is necessary. In the second section, I will recall the facts of the case and the reaction of the public as well as of the academic scholarship in Italy. In the third section, I will explore the role of cultural expertise and the potential risks attached to it. I will conclude with considerations about the potential value of anthropological knowledge in court, especially within the current political scenario of rise of populism in Italy.
  • Livia Holden, Cultural Expertise and Socio-Legal Studies (Emerald, Austin Sarat Series 2019)
    This special issue of Studies in Law, Politics, and Society aims to foster a dialogue that is inclusive, constructive, and innovative in order to lay the basis for evaluating the usefulness and impact of cultural expertise in modern litigation. It investigates the scope of cultural expertise as a new socio-legal concept that broadly concerns the use of social sciences in connection with rights and the solution of conflicts. While the definition of cultural expertise is new, the conflicts it applies to are not, and these range from criminal law to civil law, including international human rights. In this special issue, socio-legal scientists with interdisciplinary backgrounds scrutinize the applicability of the notion of cultural expertise in Europe and the rest of the World. Cases include murder, female genital mutilation, earthquake claims, Islamic law, underage marriages, child custody, adoption, land rights, and asylum. The authors debate on a variety of themes, such as legal pluralism, ethnicity, causal determinism, reification of culture, and the “culturalization” of defendants. The volume concludes with an overview of the ethical implications of the definition of cultural expertise and suggestions for a way forward.
  • Livia Holden, Cultural Expertise: an Emergent Concept and Evolving Practices (Laws 2019)
    This Special Issue focuses on the contemporary evolution and variation of cultural expertise as an emergent concept providing a conceptual umbrella to a variety of evolving practices, which all include the use of the special knowledge of social sciences for the resolution of conflicts. It surveys the application of cultural expertise in the legal process with an unprecedented span of fields going from ethnopsychiatry to the recognition of the rights of autochthone minorities including linguistic expertise, historical expertise in situations of transitional justice, and post-colonial reformulation of cultural rights. The stress of this Special Issue is on the development and change of culture-related expert witnessing over recent times, culture-related adjudication, and resolution of disputes, criminal litigation, and other kinds of court and out-of-court procedures. This Special Issue offers descriptions of judicial practices involving experts of local laws and customs and surveys of the most frequent fields of expert witnessing that are related with culture; interrogates who the experts are; their links with local communities and also with the courts and the state power and politics; how cultural expert witnessing has been received by judges; how cultural expertise has developed across the sister disciplines of history and psychiatry; and eventually, it asks whether academic truth and legal truth are commensurable across time and space. This special issue is an output of the project titled “Cultural Expertise in Europe: What is it useful for?” (EURO-EXPERT) funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under H2020-EU.1.1. programme (ERC grant agreement no. 681814), Principal Investigator: Livia Holden.
    ISBN: ISSN 2075-471X
  • Livia Holden, 'La cultural expertise contro il rischio del populismo giudiziario' (2019) Magistratura Democratica
    Il mio intervento propone delle riflessioni sul concetto di pluralismo, sulla relazione tra alterità e discriminazione e sul pericolo che l’attivismo giudiziario possa sfociare in populismo giudiziario. Accennerò quindi alle possibili rappresentazioni della diversità in ambito giudiziario e al modo in cui queste possono finire per facilitare le derive populiste, replicando e potenziando gli stereotipi discriminatori proposti in ambito politico. Concluderò con una proposta alternativa: l’uso delle “consulenze culturali” oppure, in inglese, l’uso delle Cultural Expertise.
  • Livia Holden, 'Law, Governance, and Culture in Gilgit Baltistan: Introduction ' (2019) South Asian History and Culture
    This paper offers an introduction to law, governance and culture in Gilgit-Baltistan. The first section provides a historical survey of the most significant events that make of Gilgit-Baltistan a disputed territory with uncertain constitutional status in Pakistan. The second section delves into the case law that has sanctioned the constitutional status and the rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in connection with the concepts of liminality and marginality. The third section mentions two current megaprojects, the Bhasha Dam and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in order to highlight the economic and political stakes that Gilgit- Baltistan represents at the national and international level. The fourth section surveys religious diversity and sectarianism as components that consistently arise in recent socio-political analyses of Gilgit-Baltistan as factors underlying latent unrest and sudden conflicts. The paper concludes with a proposal to de-colonise the anthropology of Gilgit- Baltistan through a process of cultural expertise that includes perspectives and knowledge generated by scholars that are native of or have spent long periods in Gilgit-Baltistan without necessarily belonging to the elitist networks of first class universities around the globe.
  • Livia Holden and Euis Nurlaelawati, Nilai-Nilai Budaya dan Keadilan bagi Perempuan di Pengadilan Agama Indonesia: Praktik Terbaik (UIN Sunan Kalijaga Press 2019)
    This collection of essays published shows that at the Islamic courts in Indonesia certain judges skilfully use their cultural expertise in order to reformulate cultural principles within the global framework of international women’s rights. All the cases of this compendium pertain to family law but display a great variety of competencies ranging from cultural principles to international women’s rights and including a remarkable flexibility of interpretation of Islamic law in matters of Javanese joint property, Minangkabau matrilinear kinship, underage marriages, marriage by abduction, divorce and revocation of divorce, poligamy, mediation, customary dower and mahr.
    ISBN: 978-602-1326-92-3
  • Livia Holden, 'A woman in academia: … and what about the children?' in Black, Ali & Garvis, Susanne (ed), Lived Experiences of Women in Academia. Metaphors, Manifestos and Memoir (Routledge 2018)
    I have been an academic 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, 'Women Judges in Pakistan' (2018) International Journal of the Legal Profession
    Although the first appointment of women judges in Pakistan dates back to 1974, a significant appointment of female judges from 2009 onward has caused a jump in female representation to more than one third in family courts: a quiet move during the tumultuous years of the so-called Chaudhry Court. The challenge in this scenario was whether this change would only be temporary or whether it would also lead to substantial and accountable inclusion. This paper adopts mixed methods to scrutinize the extent of the adherence to the principle of gender equality in the judiciary as per international treaties to which Pakistan is signatory. It starts by retracing the historical steps of the appointment of female judges in Pakistan and then investigates the everyday interactions and preoccupations of women judges in their daily management of justice. The findings elucidate how the global agenda impacts local expectations and conceptualizations of gender representation within and beyond the state.
  • 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 Diasporas (Taylor & Francis 2015)
    Legal Pluralism and Governance in South Asia and the Diasporas contributes to the already heated debate about legal pluralism and the ontology of law by shifting the attention toward the relationship between what is treated as law and its impact on governance at the fora of dispute resolution. This book addresses sensitive issues such as gender rights and alternative dispute resolution in India, Hindu and Muslim personal laws in South Asia and in Europe, cross-border white violence, the change to Islamic legal traditions under Western domination, women’s inheritance in Pakistan and in the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan, indigenous rights and resistance at the India-Bangladesh border, and customary laws of nomadic groups in India. The authors deploy a variety of views that point at the pros and cons of legal pluralism and also integrates its opponents. They show how constructions of identity, religion, and power have historically informed the conceptualisation of secularism which may be an ideal, sometimes able to provide for perceptions of accountable governance, but also generating dividing worldviews. This book was published as a special issue of the Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law.
  • Livia Holden and Azam Chaudhary , 'Daughters' 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)
  • Holden, Marius and Livia Holden, 'Lady Judges of Pakistan' (2013) Insights
    This is the OA version. Three version lengths (29, 54, and 75 min.) in Urdu and English with English subtitles available at
    This documentary film follows legal proceedings in the law courts presided over by women-judges in the four provinces of Pakistan. Shot in observational style and developed on the basis of collaborative relationships, it weaves together court proceedings, personal narratives, and glimpses of everyday life. While the main action flows through the multi-sited management of justice, the interactions among the litigants, defendants, lawyers, clerics, and police offer insights in the socio-legal context that the women judges are grappling with in Pakistan.
  • 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, '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 2012)
  • 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)
    Cultural Expertise and Litigation addresses the role of social scientists as a source of expert evidence, and is a product of their experiences and observations of cases involving litigants of South Asian origin. What is meant in court by "culture," "custom" and "law"? How are these concepts understood by witnesses, advocates, judges and litigants? How far are cross-cultural understandings facilitated - or obscured - in the process? What strategies are adopted? And which ones turn out to be successful in court? How is cultural understanding – and misunderstanding – produced in these circumstances? And how, moreover, do the decisions in these cases not only reflect, but impact, upon the law and the legal procedure? Cultural Expertise and Litigation addresses these questions, as it elicits the patterns, conflicts and narratives that characterize the legal role of social scientists in a variety of de facto plural settings – including immigration and asylum law, family law, citizenship law and criminal law.
  • Livia Holden and Mehdi, Rubya (eds), Law and Corruption (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)
    This study investigates the place of Hindu divorce in the Indian legal system and considers whether it offers a way out of a matrimonial crisis situation for women. Using the narratives of the social actors involved, it poses questions about the relationship between traditional jurisdictions located in rural areas and the larger legal culture of towns and cities in India, and also in the UK and USA. The multidisciplinary approach draws on research from the social sciences, feminist and legal studies and will be of interest to students and scholars of law, anthropology and sociology.
  • 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)
  • Livia Holden, 'Divorcing by custom: Women’s agencies and lawyers' praxis in (un)official Hindu law' (2004) Indian Socio-Legal Journal
  • 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, law and governance, legal pluralism, gender and judging, judicial education, state- and non-state jurisdiction, ADR, Islamic law, Hindu law, anthropology of human rights, documentary filmmaking, mixed research methods


Events organised by Livia Holden

Research projects