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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Olivia Killias

Olivia Killias, Dr.

  • Senior Researcher and Lecturer
  • Adviser for BA Students
+41 44 635 23 38
Room number
AND 5.96

Student counselling

Consultation hours every Tuesday 09.30-15.30: Book an appointment.
Can't make an appointment? Get in touch with me:

Office hours: Mo, Tue, Thu, Fri

Research interests

Political anthropology; globalisation, migration; memory; ageing; gender and sexuality

Regional interests

Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia (Iranian diaspora); postcolonial Europe: Netherlands

Short biography

Olivia Killias is a senior researcher and lecturer at the Department of Social Anthropology (ISEK). She studied social sciences at the Universities of Lausanne and Amsterdam (UvA), and completed her PhD in social anthropology at the University of Bern.

Over the last few years, Olivia Killias has carried out long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Netherlands. Recently published as a book monograph, Killias’ dissertation explores domestic worker migration in and from Indonesia. By literally following migrant women from their recruitment by local brokers in a village in upland Central Java, via secluded 'training' camps in Jakarta, employment in gated middle-class homes within Indonesia and in Malaysia and back home again, Killias discusses the moral, social, economic and legal processes by which Indonesian women are turned into ‘maids’ for the global care economy and reveals the richness and ambiguity of their experiences, going beyond stereotypical representations of them as ‘victims of trafficking’.

As a postdoctoral researcher in the BMBF-Competence Network on ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ at the Humboldt University of Berlin (2012-2014), Killias carried out anthropological research on the migration of Iranian students to Malaysia and explored questions of everyday urban coexistence – and in particular the emergence of suspicion – in a diverse urban high-rise building (see Killias 2014).

Currently, she is working on a new research project entitled ‘Caring not to Forget: Memory, Colonialism and Loss in Dutch Elderly Care’ for which she carried out 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Netherlands (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation). Zooming in on nursing homes explicitly designed to cater to Indisch elders born in the Dutch East Indies, she takes these nursing homes as an entry point to explore the relation between memory, ageing and loss in contemporary postcolonial Europe.

Killias has taught on various subjects of anthropology at the Universities of Lausanne (2005), Neuchâtel (2006-2007), Bern (2007-2011), Berlin (2011) and Zurich (since 2014). She was also a visiting researcher at the Humboldt University of Berlin (2010), Oxford University (2010), Universiti Sains Malaysia (2012-2013), Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen (2018) and the University of Amsterdam (2019).

She is interested in supervising Ba and MA theses in the fields of political anthropology; globalisation, migration; memory; ageing; gender and sexuality; visual anthropology and in general in supervising students willing to carry out research in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Olivia Killias has been involved with Zethno for years now, with the objective of bringing knowledge from social anthropology and related social and cultural sciences into a dialogue with the wider public.


Editorial board memberships

Member of the editorial board of ZANTHRO