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Extractive Orders: a political geography of public authority in Ituri, DR Congo

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Public authority is an essentially contested concept in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Not only is the ‘state of the state’ subject to profound disagreement in academic debates, but public authority on the ground is also the focal point of heated contestation. While some argue that the DRC does not exist as a state from the perspective of normative understandings of statehood, others argue that the state as an idea tenaciously persists as a frame of reference for how the Congolese attribute responsibility in questions of public authority. Yet others contest frames of state failure by pointing out that public authority coalesces in well-oiled structures of predatory accumulation.

This paper wants to put the debate about public authority into perspective by arguing that public authority is not an ‘either’- ‘or’ question. Rather, manifestations of public authority differ from one site to another, unfolding in overlapping and shifting spatial patterns along geographies of economic resources and infrastructures of circulation.
The paper explores how these geographies are composed of practices associated with statehood that are deployed for, and essentially infused with, private logics of accumulation in the DRC. It unpacks the entangled geography of public authority in Ituri by focusing on the organization and distribution of security and justice practices in the region along pathways carved out by gold extraction and circulation.

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