Shipwrecked sovereignty: Neoliberalism and a disputed sunken treasure

Yves Winter*, Joshua Chambers-Letson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In 2007, a private corporation specializing in deep-sea salvage retrieved a treasure-laden shipwreck in international waters southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. The wreck was that of a Spanish warship that sunk during the Napoleonic wars. Following the discovery, a legal dispute arose in U.S. federal courts, between the corporate salvors, the Kingdom of Spain, and other litigants. At issue in the legal proceedings was the status of the shipwreck and whether it was protected by sovereign immunity. At the heart of this case are differing political imaginations concerning the authority of states and the role of corporations in the contemporary global order. Through a close reading of court documents and the narratives in which the courts’ rulings are embedded, we demonstrate that the case is symptomatic of the tension in neoliberal sovereignty between two overlapping and at times competing political rationalities: the neoliberal logic of capital and commerce and the logic of sovereign prerogative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-311
Number of pages25
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 4 2015


  • Globalization
  • Neoliberalism
  • Privatization
  • Shipwreck
  • Sovereignty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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