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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Philip Steinberg

Steinberg, Philip E. & Chapman, Thomas E. Key West's Conch Republic: Building Sovereignties of Connection. Political Geography. 2009;28:283-295.

Author(s) from Durham


This article examines the Conch Republic, a semi-farcical micro-state that was established in Key West, Florida in 1982. Although the Conch Republic has its origins in a direct challenge to state power, it is now a relatively depoliticized statement of the island's eclecticism as well as a marketing tool for the island's all-important tourism industry. Thus, the Conch Republic could easily be dismissed as an entity that has little in common with actual sovereign states.

In this article, however, three literatures that shed light on Key West's culture and economy – the queer theory, tourism, and critical island studies literatures – are used to reframe sovereignty not as a stable category but as a strategic tool that is employed to improve the environment in which one engages in interactions. The story of the Conch Republic thus is used to demonstrate how sovereignty is sometimes less about the power to isolate and exclude than it is about the right to maintain some degree of control, or at least dignity, in a world of connections, inclusions, and fragmented, unstable identities.