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Islands in the Net: Rewiring Technological and Financial Circuits in the “Offshore” Caribbean

  • Bill Maurer (a1)
    • Published online: 09 January 2002

Bruce Sterling's novel, Islands In The Net, opens with a scene on a Gulf of Mexico beach. Laura, the novel's protagonist, jogs along the seaside, “in pure animal ease, like an antelope,” when suddenly she trips and falls, snagged by “a black, peeling length of electrical cable. Junked flotsam from the hurricane, buried in the sand” (Sterling 1989:1). It is also flotsam of another era. Tugging on the cable to find its source, she unearths a video-cassette recorder, corroded by “twenty years of grit and brine” (p. 2). The novel's opening occasions, for the protagonist and the reader, reflection on modern communications, capitalism, and media. It is also an unsubtle foreshadowing of what will become of Laura as the novel progresses. On a mission to root out shady dealings in offshore “data havens,” like Grenada and Singapore, Laura eventually finds herself ensnared by the interlinking corporate connections bridging her world of “legitimate” business enterprise with the havens' illicit world of “bad” capitalism and illegitimate trade. Digging deeper, she uncovers the gritty, briny truth about her own corporation and, indeed, an entire corporate order in which the line between legitimate and illegitimate corporate activity simply vanishes into virtual space.

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A version of this paper was presented on a panel at the Western Humanities Conference in Riverside, California, 1998, and I thank the organizers of that conference and the panel audience for their support and comments. I would like to thank the following individuals for comments on earlier drafts of this essay: Robin Balliger, Tom Boellstorff, Ruth Buchanan, Eve Darian-Smith, Mike Burton, James G. Ferguson, Jim Hess and Joanie McCollum. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for CSSH for their incisive commentary and excellent suggestions for revision, only some of which I have been able adequately to address here. Research and writing support for this paper was provided by a Junior Faculty Career Development Award from the School of Social Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, for which I also extend my thanks. I would like especially to thank Susan Coutin and Diane Nelson for reading several versions and for encouraging me to pursue the line of inquiry represented here. All errors and inconsistencies are my responsibility alone.
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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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