Accepted Paper:

Staging formality: commerce and state in Katanga (DRC)  
Benjamin Rubbers (Université de Liège)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an analysis of commercial activity in Katanga (DRC), this paper offers an anthropological critique of the formal/informal opposition to bringing to light the multiple manners by which traders and officials interact and negotiate the legal definition of economic practices.

Paper long abstract:

My paper will offer an analysis of the relationship between commercial activity and administrative control in Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. First, I will criticize the formal/informal opposition to stress, in the vein of H. Becker, the moral processes by which actors label economic practices. Far from being restricted to contraband, fraud implies in most cases the active collaboration of officials in Congo, as I will demonstrate through the multiple manners to make enter goods from Zambia. The definition of what is 'formal' generally comes down, then, to a matter of 'dis-simulation' which businessmen negotiate with officials at the backstage.

In the light of this ambiguity, the formal/informal dilemma is best understood in the anthropological paradigm of corruption. The latter can be conceived, I will argue in a second time, as a codified interaction which requires social and cultural skills as well as a material and symbolic exchange embedded in specific social networks (parents, neighbours, friends, etc.). But it can also be interpreted as a kind of deviance appealing to conflicting moral evaluations and an object of rumours which convey accusations and justifications in local society. All these theoretical suggestions will be illustrated by ethnographic materials taken from my fieldwork in Katanga.

Finally, I will show how these operations of administrative dissimulation, which take place at different political levels, shape the commercial circuits of importation. They organize consequently the social world of merchants in Katanga so far that an approximate correlation can be found between its hierarchy and the informal structure of the State.

Panel W057
Formal and informal economies in a global world