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Informal Institutions and the Regulation of Smuggling in North Africa

  • Max Gallien


Contemporary writing on North African borderlands invokes the idea of a general, unregulated porosity through which small-scale informal traders of food or textiles move alongside drug smugglers and terrorists. I challenge that conception, demonstrating that the vast majority of smuggling activity is in fact highly regulated through a dense network of informal institutions that determine the costs, quantity, and types of goods that can pass through certain nodes, typically segmenting licit from illicit goods.

While informal, the institutions regulating this trade are largely impersonal and contain third-party enforcement, hence providing a direct empirical challenge to common characterisations of informal institutions in political science. I argue that revisiting the characteristics associated with informal institutions, and understanding them as contingent on their political environment, can provide a new starting point for studying institutions, the politics of informality, state capacity, and the regulation of illegal economies.

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The author would like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for its support of this project, and Kate Meagher, Steffen Hertog, John Sidel, Catherine Boone, Adeel Malik, Sami Bensassi, Portia Roelofs, Moritz Schmoll, Nicolai Schulz, Matt Herbert, Peter Andreas and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts for this paper.

A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.



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Perspectives on Politics
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