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Neoliberalism and Illegality: Flows, Commodities, Locations


Admission requirements

This course is open to all (Res)Master students (particularly those following the International Studies, Latin American Studies programmes) who seek to engage and deepen into the discussion on neoliberalism and the control of illegality and criminality from a global perspective. Students from other faculties than Humanities can also be accepted.


Illegality is a social construction, and it is defined within a particular historical context. Under the influence of the political, economic and cultural process identified as global neoliberalism, new definitions of illegality have been promoted since the late 20th century by international agencies and trade agreements to control flows, commodities and locations. By looking at the movement of people, material exchanges between regions, and the state policies to halt illegality, this course investigates the relation between neoliberalism and emerging definitions of illegality. What has been the impact of global neoliberalism on the definition of illegality? Has globalisation and the removal of commercial and national barriers eased the emergence of new crimes? How are these processes played out across geographical settings? The course draws on specific case studies from a global perspective, including human trafficking and terrorism in the United States, border surveillance in the European Union, coffee-shops in the Netherlands, anti-drug policies in Mexico, coca leave production in Bolivia and Ecuador, and counterfeit and piracy in China. The bibliography includes innovative, field-based case studies that represent the state of the art in the study and theorisation of illegality, transnational crime and neoliberalism from a multidisciplinary perspective, including anthropology, geography and political science.

Course Objectives

  • Build knowledge on ongoing debates on neoliberalism, illegality and globalisation

  • Conduct bibliographic/documentary research on specific case studies, from a global perspective

  • Acquisition of academic abilities: writing a research paper



Mode of instruction

Lecture and seminar.

Course Load

A brief calculation of the course load, broken down by:

  • Total course load for the course (number of EC x 28 hours), for a course of 5 EC is 140 hours, for 10 EC 280.

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars (eg 2 hours per week x 14 weeks = 28 hours)

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature (as a possible criterion approx. 7 pages per hour with deviations up and down depending on the material to be studied) (if applicable) time for completing assignments, whether in preparation at the college

  • (If applicable) time to write a paper (including reading / research)

  • Lectures (12X2hrs) 24

  • Reading materials (300pp.) 43

  • Assignments (3.000w) 73

  • Writing research paper (5.000w)140
    TOTAL: (10ECs): 280 hrs.

Assessment Method

  • One oral presentation 10%

  • A synthesis on literature (2000 words) 20%

  • Outline research paper (1000 words) 20%

  • Research paper (5000 words) 50%


Lectures and assignments will be available on Blackboard

Reading list


Aguiar, José Carlos G.
2012 ‘Policing New Illegalities: Piracy, Raids, and Madrinas’. In Violence, Coercion, and State-Making in Twentieth-Century Mexico. W. Pansters (ed.). Palo Alto: Sanford University Press: 159-184.

Andersson, Ruben
2014 ‘Time and the Migrant Other: European Border Controls and the Temporal Economics of Illegality’. American Anthropologist 116(4): 795-809.

Andreas, Peter
2013 Smuggler nation: How Illicit Trade Made America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Comaroff, John., & Jane Comaroff (eds.)
2006 Law and Disorder in the Postcolony. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Giroux, Henry
2014 ‘Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State’. Cultural Studies 29(2): 108-40.

Gootenberg, Peter
2007 ‘The “Pre-Colombian” Era of Drug Trafficking in the Americas: Cocaine, 1945-1965’. The Americas 64(2): 133-176.

Mattelart, Tristan
2009 Audio-visual piracy: towards a study of the underground networks of cultural globalization. Global Media and Communication 5(3): 308-326.

Nordstrom, Carolyn
2007 Global Outlaws. Crime, money, and power in the contemporary world. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Pfeiffer, Sven
2013 ‘Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Drug Control Regime: The Case of Traditional Coca Leaf Chewing’. Goettingen Journal of International Law 1: 287-324.

Polson, Michael
2013 ‘Land and Law in Marijuana Country: Clean Capital, Dirty Money, and the Drug War’s Rentier Nexus’. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 36(2): 215-30.

Ruiz Marrujo, Olivia
2014 ‘Undocumented Families in Times of Deportation at the San Diego–Tijuana Border’. Journal of Borderlands Studies 29(4): 391-403.

Veen, Hans van der
2009 ‘Regulation in Spite of Prohibition: The Control of Cannabis Distribution in Amsterdam’. Cultural Critique 71(1): 129-147.

Pieke, Frank & Biao Xiang
2010 ‘Legality and Labor: Chinese Migratory Workers in Great Britain’. Encounters 3: 15-38.

Wallerstein, Immanuel
2000 ‘Globalization or the Age of Transition?: A Long-Term View of the Trajectory of the World-System’. International Sociology 15 (2): 249-265.

Wacquant, Loïc
2012 ‘Three steps to a historical anthropology of actually existing neoliberalism’. Social Anthropology 20(1): 66-79.

Contact information

Dr. José Carlos G. Aguiar




Based on bibliographic and documental sources, students will carry out a short research project on the control of illegality (goods, ideas or people) in a specific context. Based on the gathered information, students will report in the format of a research paper.