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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


The timetable is available on the website.

Mode of instruction

Lecture and seminar.

Course Load

  • Lectures (12X2hrs – attendance is compulsory) 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%
    The research paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.

The papers for students taking this course as part of their LAS Research Master are expected to formulate a research question that is strongly theoretically embedded and related in their case study to a key debate on Latin American Modernities (discussed in the ResMA core courses). To this end, ResMA students can request one extra individual meeting focused on helping them develop their theoretical framework accordingly.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


A resit for the final essay can be held if the original submission is insufficient.

inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


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.


Via uSis

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

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.