Gustav Peebles, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The New School

Seeking the Sanctuary: Gibraltar, Offshore Finance, and Revisiting an Ancient Tradition

Walking its thoroughfares, relaxing in its squares, or waiting endlessly to cross its supposedly open border, a visitor to the tiny sovereignty of Gibraltar could be forgiven for sensing that they had stepped through the looking glass. Perhaps this results from its transparent mimicry of a quaint English village, while still sitting perched on the southern tip of Iberia, with Morocco looming in the distance. Or, perhaps its permanent liminal administrative status also contributes to this feeling. While one critic calls it a “mere glorified county council” and still part of the UK, Gibraltar itself has exercised its sovereign powers to contend directly with the European Union over tax law (this will, of course, change if Brexit occurs, but that cannot detain us here). This paper will contend that one of the clearest ways to make sense of Gibraltar’s odd status is through the lens of “sanctuary law.” Paradoxically, we must see its sleepy and placid urban space as a function of Gibraltar’s position as a node in a vast and turbulent financial world. In other words, there is an intense infrastructural labor that produces its placidity, so that it can attract capital from far-flung locales of instability. As sanctuary, it is designed to stand as a sovereign exception from the standard rules of the global marketplace, a characteristic it shares with many other ex-British island colonies. To make its case, this paper begins by discussing the history of sanctuary law, then moves on to make the case that offshore finance appears to be its latest (unnoticed) incarnation.

Gustav Peebles is an Associate Professor of Liberal Studies and Global Studies, Special Advisor to the Provost, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at The New School, New York, USA.

All seminars in the series.