UCL Anthropology

Dr Alex Pillen

Dr Alex Pillen

Associate Professor

Dept of Anthropology

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
1st Oct 2003

Research summary

Alex Pillen is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Language at UCL. She has conducted ethnographic research in war-torn societies, funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, the Nuffield Foundation, and more recently the British Academy. Language – humanity’s finest attribute – becomes stretched to its limit when faced with sacrifice, or the brutality of war and predation. Life on the cusp of dehumanisation appears as a distinct linguistic predicament, commonly disregarded by a popular paradigm of trauma. She studies evidentiality, reported speech, irony, deception and antipodal expression in contexts of war and other instances of cultural paradox.

Publications include a monograph published by Pennsylvania University Press in the Ethnography of Political Violence Series entitled 'Masking Terror', an article on ‘Language, trauma, and translation’ in Annual Review of Anthropology, and a theoretical piece called ‘A space that will never be filled’ in Current Anthropology. She collaborates with Emma-Kate Matthews at the Bartlett School of architecture, UCL. This conversation about the architecture of language led to a co-authored article 'Natural language modelled and printed in 3D'. At the moment, she is completing a monograph entitled ‘Speaking Kurdish’.

Teaching summary

Alex Pillen teaches anthropological perspectives on language and war. She supervises doctoral projects that are theoretically engaged, and grounded in the study of language practices:

Current PhD students

Sophie Knowles-Mofford (Wolfson Scholarship)

Joseph Buckley (Wolfson Scholarship)

Post-doctoral scholars

Aeron O'Connor (ESRC 2020-2022)

Alice Rudge (Leverhulme 2020-2023)

Completed PhD Dissertations

Isobel Gibbin (LAHP Fellowship)

Giulia de Togni (LAHP Fellowship)

Aeron O'Connor (LAHP Fellowship)

Liz Fox (ESRC Fellowship)

Chaitanya Kanchan (ESRC/LAHP Fellowship)

Shema Tariq (MRC Fellowship)

Qi Xiaoguang (China Scholarship Council Fellowship)

Besim Can Zihr (University of Ankara Fellowship)

Ania Witeska (UCL Graduate School Fellowship)


University College London
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2000


Recent talks

Nov 2022, Panel 'Producing Power and Participation: Papers in Honor of Don Brenneis', Conference of the American Anthropological Association, Seattle WA. 

Sep 2022, RAI Research Seminar: 'Natural Language as Geometry', Royal Anthropological Institute.

Nov 2021, ISCA seminar, University of Oxford: 'The Architecture of Language: An Exploration in 3D’,

Oct 2019, UCL Multimedia Anthropology Postgraduate Lab: ‘Language Printed in 3D: The Architecture of Evidence’.

Apr 2019, Seminar, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3, LACITO-UMR du CNRS: ‘A space of one's own in language: The reflexive pronoun in Kurdish (Kurmancí)’.

Mar 2019, Royal Anthropological Institute, London: ‘David Parkin's Anthropology of Language’.