Vanita Seth

TitleAssociate Professor
DivisionSocial Sciences Division,
Humanities Division
DepartmentPolitics Department
AffiliationsHistory of Consciousness Department,
Feminist Studies Department,
South Asia Studies
Office119 Merrill College
Campus Mail StopMerrill/Crown Faculty Services
Vanita Seth

Research Interests

Vanita Seth is a wide-ranging political theorist whose work engages early modern European thought, feminist, postcolonial and postmodernist theory, histories of racial discourse, histories of modernity and histories of the body. Seth's current book project, tentatively titled Tailoring Individuality, traces the history of a particularly modern form of selfhood: the individual. Seth's research explores the possibility that individuality derives its meaning through its constitutive parts, through the collective assemblage of a wide array of characteristics (interiority, uniqueness, authenticity, originality, rationality, judicial culpability and corporal fixity) that have their own peculiar, inter- related and at times, discrete histories. Seth assess these histories through specific thematic sites: the signature, the face as a literary trope, the emergence of statistics, the correlation between copyright laws and discourses of originality, the emergence, in western art, of portraitures and perspective and the gradual distinction between western individuals and non-western "races," "tribes," "religions," "clans," and "castes."

Seth's first book, Europe's Indians: Producing Racial Difference, 1500–1900 (Duke University Press, 2010), forces a rethinking of key assumptions regarding difference---particularly racial difference---and its centrality to contemporary social and political theory. Tracing shifts in European representations of two different colonial spaces, the New World and India, from the late fifteenth century through the late nineteenth, Europe's Indians demonstrates that the classification of humans into racial categories or binaries of self-other is a product of modernity. Part historical, part philosophical, and part a history of science, this works seeks to expose the epistemic conditions that enabled the thinking of difference at distinct historical junctures. Through a study of Renaissance, Classical Age, and nineteenth-century representations of difference radically diverging forms of knowing, reasoning, organizing thought, and authorizing truth come into sharp relief. Europe's Indians encompasses stories of monsters, new worlds, and ancient lands; the theories of individual agency expounded by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau; and the physiological sciences of the nineteenth century. European knowledge, Seth argues, does not reflect a singular history of Reason, but rather multiple traditions of reasoning, of historically bounded and contingent forms of knowledge. Europe's Indians shows that a history of colonialism and racism must also be an investigation into the historical production of subjectivity, agency, epistemology, and the body.

Seth serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for Cultural Studies at UC Santa Cruz. She is also an editor of the journal Postcolonial Studies.So

Biography, Education and Training

Ph.D., Political Science, University of Melbourne, 2003

B.A., Government, University of Sydney, 1993

Selected Publications

  • Europe's Indians: Producing Racial Difference, 1500–1900. Duke University Press, 2010.

  • "Men Completely Wild in Appearance and Way of Life," in When Worlds Elide, eds. Karen Bassi and J. Peter Euben. Rowman and Littlefield, 2010. [Get Chapter]

  • "From Man to Men to Missing Links" in Social Identities, 15.6 (2009): 831-849

  • "Learning from Cyprus" (Editor's Introduction), in Postcolonial Studies 3:9 (2008)

  • "Tyranny of Race" (Review Essay) Thesis 11 vol. 79 (2004)

  • "Difference with a Difference: Wild Men, Gods and Other Protagonists" in Parallax 9.4 (2003): 75-87.

  • "Self and Similitude: Translating Difference (Modern Colonialism and Renaissance Conquests)," Postcolonial Studies Journal 4.3 (2001): 297-309. [Get Article]

  • Book Reviews

  • Review of Social and Political Philosophy - a Contemporary Introduction (by John Christman) in the Australian Political Science Journal 39.3 (2004): 583-584

  • "On Authenticity and the Closet" Review of Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet. Lesbian and Gay Displacement (by Cheshire Calhoun) and Beyond the Closet. The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life (by Steven Seidman) in Lesbian and Gay Studies Newsletter 30.1-2 (2004): 9-12.

  • Review of On Post-colonial Futures (by Bill Ashcroft) in Change, Peace and Security, 15.1 (2003): 89-91.