Rock, water, air, and fire: Foregrounding the elements in the Gibraltar-Spain dispute

IMG_0362Just before Christmas I got a tweet from Society and Space to let me know that my first paper was available to read online (the abstract is posted below and the link to the online paper is here). It’s the culmination of my Masters research on the role of materials, elements, and volumes in the dispute between Spain, Britain, and Gibraltar over Gibraltarian territory in 2014 and suggests that the molecular and elemental are worthy of a more prominent position within geopolitics.

Gibraltar proved to be a really rich site to explore questions pertaining to the non-human and the molecular agency of elements like rock, water, air, and fire (in the form of the sun) in the ongoing tensions. It also proved to be a useful case study through which to reflect theoretically on work by Peter Adey and Derek McCormack in relation to bodies and elements/volumes and on the volumetric and territorial work by scholars such as Stuart Elden.

The paper has changed markedly from my original dissertation which is indicative of the constructive reviewing process it went through. The comments were challenging and thought provoking and a lot of re-writing ensued but hopefully it is improved as a result. Overall it was a really positive and mostly enjoyable introduction into the academic publishing world!


Through the case study of the contested British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, this paper contributes to discussions on ‘territorial volumes’ by exploring the role of the ‘elemental’ in the protracted sovereignty dispute between Spain and Gibraltar. Drawing on scholarship by Elden, Adey, McCormack and others in political and cultural geography, the paper highlights the value of foregrounding the elements of rock, water, air and fire (in the form of the sun) in attempts to understand the tensions between Gibraltar and Spain whilst also demonstrating the significant intersections between the elemental and the human body. Whilst avoiding the snares of environmental determinism, the paper makes the case for an elemental ontology that functions through and with the proclivities and molecular specificities of the elements in order to better understand the construct of the territorial volume, the relationship between elemental and bodily volumes, and the site specific geopolitical realities, fractures and possibilities that are laid bare as the elements are unearthed.


Water reservoirs in the Rock of Gibraltar

Rachael Squire


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