CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

What are the social bases of the making of public authority in contexts marked by violence and uncertainty? Based on fieldwork conducted with trade association leaders in Karachi’s bazaar, I explain how adherence to a particular style of life constitutes an effective mode of domination. While some argue that public authority is generally shaped and maintained through violence, this article shows that actors in conflict situations value modes of action, such as non-violent confrontation, that allow them to defend interests without fueling tensions. In order to build their authority, these leaders also privilege vernacular registers of legitimacy, notably apoliticism–the supposed absence of compromise with the criminal underworld–and piety, which goes hand in hand with honesty and respect for Islamic morality in the conduct of business. Hence these leaders’ authority is embedded both in the norms of Karachi’s market society and the urban environment in which they work.

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