Netta van Vliet

Courses Taught


The terms globalization and anti-globalization are often used to refer to increasing cultural homogeneity across the globe, but also to growing familiarity with multiple forms of diversity and intercultural exchange. These terms also reference notions of progress and development, but also increasing poverty and inequality. In this course, we will look at how historical perspectives of the forces of globalization -- including capitalism, European modernity and its colonial histories -- shape contemporary understandings of and debates over immigration, labor, gender and ethnic difference, national boundaries and their transgression, the law, justice and human rights. We will think critically about concepts such as agency, freedom, and even the notion of the human itself. Relatedly, this course will challenge you to think about the implications of how difference – national, gender, ethnic, and otherwise - is understood in terms of globalization for political problems such as war, poverty, environmental destruction, sexual violence, imperialism, and freedom of movement and expression. Over the course of the term, we will examine how human relations in specific locales are shaped through economic and cultural exchanges, mass media, different forms of representation and changing means of mobility. To this end, we will draw on specific examples from African, European, Middle Eastern and Latin American contexts. This is an interdisciplinary course that draws on the fields of anthropology, literature, feminist theory, and postcolonial studies. In addition to academic texts, we will be reading from novels, engaging with film, and listening to music. Evaluation of students will be based on the following: informal reading responses, one mid-term paper and one final paper, and class participation. 

Level: Introductory. Prerequisites: None. Class Limit: 15.

HS1045Politics of Israel

This course focuses on the concept of Israel as a Jewish state and as a liberal democracy. This means that we will both be examining what is singular about Israel, and addressing concepts of the nation-state and liberal democracy more broadly. How can thinking about Israel help us think about the relationship between the nation-state and the concept and treatment of difference? Asking this question through the example of Israel will put other terms into question, including citizen, origin, genocide, value, rights, equality, individual, sovereignty and subjectivity. As we examine these concepts, we will address gender, ethnic, national, economic and linguistic difference in the contexts of Zionism, Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, while the course does not focus explicitly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by the end of the semester students should have gained critical thinking skills with which to analyze it should they be so inclined. 

The goal of this course is not to convince students to be more or less sympathetic to any of the myriad political positions that exist with regard to Israel/Palestine. Rather, the aim of this course is to provide conceptual tools with which students can think critically about the concepts through which Israel/Palestine is not only represented but also through which the place and the people who live there come into being in all of their materiality and affect. In particular, we will pay attention to questions of origin, representation, and how the relation between individual and group is understood. Hopefully, such critical thinking skills will serve students well not only in efforts to understand the different forms of violence through which Israel is defined, but also in addressing questions of intellectual, social and political significance other than those directly related to Israel/Palestine. This is an interdisciplinary course, and we will be drawing on work in anthropology, feminist theory, literature, psychoanalysis, postcolonial studies, political theory, and history. We will also be reading from novels, listening to music, and watching films. 

The course is divided into three sections. The first section is focused on the political context of 1890s-1930s Europe. We will situate the development of the Zionist movement by thinking about it in relation to psychoanalysis and in relation to the different forms of socialism and international feminisms emerging at the time. The second section is focused on World War II and its immediate aftermath. We will address the event of the Holocaust, political and philosophical responses to it, questions of origin, representation, the law and justice. The third section focuses on the concept and contexts of Israel post-1948. We will ask about the significance of different forms of difference both in terms of Israel’s contemporary contexts and in terms of the weight of their genealogies. Students will be evaluated based on attendance, in-class participation, one letter to the editor, reading responses, and two short analytical essays.

Level: Introductory.  Prerequisites: None. Class limit: 15.  Lab fee: None.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS3061Postcolonial Islands

This course focuses on islands – geopolitically and conceptually – to consider the significance of postcolonial difference for contemporary political questions about representation, violence, exile and diaspora, climate change, poverty, racialization and sexuality. Islands have long been imagined as sites of fantastic possibility and power, as places of refuge and respite as well as places of horror and dread. They are places imagined as home to cannibals and monsters, but also as idyllic vacations spots and safe havens for shipwrecked sailors. Etymologically, the word island carries with it the meaning of both land and water, and islands are defined as fragments of a whole, and simultaneously as whole unto themselves, raising questions about binaries and boundaries between self and other and about the conceptual topographies of territory, land and water, thresholds between here and there. Islands have been sites ripe for colonial ventures, understood as isolated, insular and susceptible to translation and appropriation but also as resistant, bounded and singular, fertile sites of diversity. Islands have also been significant in religious understandings of them as sites for communion with God or as final places of burial. This course will examine islands in these terms as they have been articulated in the literary imagination, in postcolonial studies and ethnography, and in political theory. Drawing on examples such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, The Odyssey, Plato’s Atlantis, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Octave Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban, Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest, as well as on ethnography in Island Studies (including classic ethnography such as Malinowski’s Trobriand Islands, and recent scholarship such as “The Island Studies Journal” and A World of Islands), we will consider questions about political representation, language and translation, religious, ethnic and sexual difference, the definition of the human, mobility and sovereignty, resistance and domination. Students will be evaluated based on attendance, in-class participation, reading responses, one short analytical essay, and a final exploratory research project that examines Mt. Desert Island in the context of course materials. 

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: none. Class limit: 10.  Lab fee: $10.  Meets the following degree requirements:  HS

HS2054Theory and Method in the Study of Religion

Religion. What is it? Is it a cultural, sociological, psychological, economic, legal, physiological, or political category?  How does the term translate between languages and across time and space? What are the different sets of institutions, practices, belief systems, and contexts within which what we call "religion" is located? How can what we call religion be studied? In this course, we will respond to these questions by looking historically, cross culturally, and cross-disciplinarily as well as inter-disciplinarily at how the term religion and the concepts and practices this term carries with it have been used. We will address questions of epistemology (how do we know what we know), and ask ourselves about the status of knowledge itself in the context of religious studies as a disciplinary formation.

Over the course of the term, we will draw on classic texts in religious studies, as well as from anthropology, history, feminist theory, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, and from ethnographic studies of both monotheistic and polytheistic belief systems, and of Western and Eastern religions. In doing so, we will engage some of the key debates about the status of religion in relation to politics, including in terms of armed conflict, colonialism and anti-colonial struggle, European Enlightenment, the notion of secularism, debates about gender and sex, and the place of religion in contexts of liberal democracy and modern nationalisms. We will address concepts such as: the sacred and the profane, totem and taboo, spirit, the divine, sublime, purity, danger, violence, peace, holiness, sacrifice, ritual, superstition, ghosts, faith, evidence, truth, secularism, possession, spirit, prayer, resurrection, messianism, and alterity. Readings will include texts by Benedict Anderson, Talal Asad, Adam Becker, Thomas Beidelman, Walter Benjamin, Maurice Bloch, Daniel Boyarin, Jonathan Boyarin, Jacques Derrida, Mary Douglas, Emile Durkehim, Mircea Eliade, E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Katherine Ewing, Sigmund Freud, Clifford Geertz, Aisha Khan, Sarah Kofman, Claude Levi-Strauss, Emmanuel Levinas, Saba Mahmood, Karl Marx, Amira Mittermaier, Sherry Ortner, Stefania Pandolfo, Ann Pellegrini, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Gershom Scholem, Joan Scott, Ninian Smart, Edward Tylor, Max Weber, and Angela Zito.  Students will be evaluated based on attendance, in-class participation, reading responses, and two short analytical essays.

Level: Intro/Intermediate.  Prerequisites: none.  Class limit: 15.  Lab fee: None.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS


The term "waste" has varied definitions; it can suggest excess material not put to use, garbage, time or objects that are not made productive or useful, and that which is thrown away. Waste is both a verb and a noun, and the term often carries moral or ethical undertones; time should not be wasted, neither should food nor material goods, and of course, life itself should not be wasted. Waste should be reduced or transformed through consumption or recycling. Waste can occasion disgust and outrage, but even if less acknowledged, also fascination, desire and pleasure.  Time spent idle is often time considered "wasted." Waste is also often understood as destructive and as the product of destruction. At the same time, waste can also be a necessary by product of its opposites. Psychoanalysis has drawn attention to feces association with gold and the notion of the gift of waste in the formation of subjectivity. Political economy, postcolonial studies, anthropology  and feminist theory have all addressed histories of abjection, notions of excrement, disposable populations, and the ways in which humans have dealt with literal waste and those materials and lives that become understood as waste. In this regard, understandings of waste have been central for notions of value, productivity, desire, cleanliness and filth, inside and outside, and the place of difference. In this course, we will examine some of the varied ways in which waste has been understood - in terms of political economy, political theory, postcolonial studies and feminist theory, addressing waste in terms of identity, the natural environment, value, and the formation of what counts as human. Readings will include texts by Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon, Georges Bataille, Julia Kristeva, Sigmund Freud, Dominque Laporte, Mary Douglas, Jacques Lacan, Norman O. Brown, Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, Kathleen Millar, Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, Kevin Bales, Paul Ricoeur, Ranjana Khanna, and Françoise Vergès.  Students will be evaluated based on attendance, in-class participation, reading responses, and two short analytical essays.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites: none.  Class limit: 10.  Lab fee: None.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS