On Rocks And Hard Places: transforming borders and identities in pre-Brexit Gibraltar
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The land-border between Spain and the British-Overseas-Territory of Gibraltar plays a big role in Gibraltarians’ lives. This thesis examines the influence of Gibraltarians’ everyday experiences with and through the Gibraltar-Spain borderscape on their identity-perceptions, cross-border relations and activities during the final stages of Brexit-negotiations in early 2019. The border is conceptualized as main protagonist in Gibraltarian life. The primary sources for my research are twenty-three in-depth, walking and driving interviews conducted from February 22 until the beginning of April 2019 with Gibraltarians who traverse the Gibraltar-Spain border at least once a week. I outline the interconnections between the physical permeability of the border, the broader political climate and the various ways in which respondents plan and execute their daily activities and manage their cross-border relations. The borderscape and respondents’ experiences with it are also shown to both reflect and reinforce Gibraltarian identity-perceptions. Respondents conceptualize the border as protecting a unique, affluent and sheltered Gibraltarian way of life against Spanish cross-border pollution. Gibraltar’s distinctiveness and autonomy also seems to be consciously reinforced by a politics of identity. Respondents mediate between British and Spanish elements of their identity in order to advocate for the existence of a unique Gibraltarian identity. This unique identity is employed as an argument for the continued existence of a somewhat exclusive and largely autonomous Gibraltar, symbolized by the border. However, connections between Gibraltar and Spain also exist and are both facilitated and reflected by the borderscape. Respondents expect a less permeable border after Brexit’s implementation. They generally expect this post-Brexit border to become more divisive, stimulating Gibraltarians to orient themselves more towards the Commonwealth than to Southern-Europe. I argue that this change in orientation dovetails with a larger shift in Gibraltarian identity away from EU-identification, but not from European identity in general. The broader conclusion drawn by this research is that the social, cultural, political and spatial dimensions of the Spanish-Gibraltarian borderscape are intertwined and continuously shape each other. I furthermore conclude that Gibraltarians appear to profit from the border’s divisive nature and not only suffer from it. This profit-dimension isn’t sufficiently highlighted by the current analytical scope of borderscaping. Therefore, I propose a redefinition of borderscaping which incorporates the view that people can both suffer and profit from borders.