The local and the global: The Cayman Islands and the international financial system

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Agnew


Cayman Islands, Finance, Globalization

Subject Categories



This study focuses on the changing geography of the international financial system. It argues that even in the most globalized, integrated and "place-less" of markets--the offshore financial markets--the particular characteristics of places matter. This argument is made through an examination of the Cayman Islands, a British Colony in the Caribbean which has established itself as a successful offshore financial center. Changes in a particular place--the Cayman Islands--and changes in international finance (banking, regulation, etc.) are seen as mutually constitutive.

During the nineteen-seventies a series of offshore financial centers emerged--many in places that were known as tax havens. These centers are clustered (e.g., Caribbean, Europe) and exist as adjuncts to major regional economic blocs (e.g., North America, European Community). Each offshore financial center competes fiercely to host "furtive" monies: hot money that is seeking to hide from regulation and flight capital. In addition, offshore centers are the bases from which international banks, corporations and other institutions participate in the Euromarkets. These markets represent vast amounts of "fictitious" capital (credit) which is frenetically repackaged; sold and resold. The Cayman Islands' development as an offshore financial center is related to changes in the workings of the Euromarkets and the Islands' geopolitical context. The Caymans have become "entrepreneurial islands" competing with other places in the Caribbean through the promotion of a carefully managed place-image.

Key themes which are intertwined in this study include: the enigmatic nature of money itself; the problematic role of the state as the guarantor and regulator of money and, more broadly, of the financial system; and, the relationship between "furtive" monies and fictitious capital in the offshore markets and centers. These themes are employed in the narrative to explore the complexity of the relationship between one small country and the international financial system; between the local and the global.


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