Professor Vanita Seth

October 08, 2018


Vanita Seth is an Associate Professor in the Politics Dept. Originally born in India, Vanita grew up in Sydney Australia completing her BA at the University of Sydney and then her PhD at the University of Melbourne. She migrated to the United States in 2001 to accept a position in Politics at UCSC.

Vanita has long been interested in racial politics. Her first book, Europe’s Indians: Producing Racial Difference 1500-1900 (Duke, 2000) is primarily concerned with tracing the historical shifts in European understandings of cultural difference. A theoretical and historical work, Vanita seeks to argue that discourses of/on race (that is, the organizing of human populations along racial difference) is a product of modernity and does not figure in earlier representations of otherness.

Currently, Vanita is working on two book projects. The first, and more immediate, continues her earlier interests in racial politics. The book, Debating Race focuses on four contemporary debates that dominate the field of race studies: the origins of race thinking, whether race is a scientifically valid category or a product of social and historical construction, the strengths and problematics of identity politics and the politics of freedom, property, slavery and settler colonialism. The second book project traces the historical emergence of individuality as a modern form of selfhood.

Bringing together historical and theoretical sources, Vanita’s work overall, engages postmodernist, postcolonial and feminist theory. Her courses, like her research, brings these various strains of historical and theoretical ideas into play. She teaches undergraduate courses in early modern political thought and feminist theory. Her senior seminar courses and graduate courses cover such topics as the history of race-thinking, conceptual origins of modernity and contemporary debates within theory.

Vanita has also been active in the interdisciplinary life of UCSC – most particularly in respect to Cultural Studies -a program she directed for three years. A weekly seminar series, CS brings together faculty and graduate students to hear and engage scholars (both from within UCSC and from other campuses) on their work in progress. Finally, Vanita was also a co-editor of the Postcolonial Studies journal and continues to be on their editorial board.

A city girl, Vanita looks to escape to the anonymity of urban spaces (usually London or Sydney) during the long summer months. But during the year she can be found in coffee shops in downtown Santa Cruz, running in the Pogonip, walking her Lab-German Shepherd (and some other mix we can’t figure out!) on the doggie beach and walking along the waters-edge on West Cliff Drive (with a pub visit afterwards).