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This chapter examines the world of informal and illegal gold mining in South Africa and reflects on the fact that conspiracy theories about gold (including its hoarding, concealment, and theft) have often relied upon gold as a figure of the real and the true at the same time as it has been imagined as the ultimate object of dissimulation. Moving between Richard Hofstadter’s account of paranoid style and the theatrical efforts made by precarious scavengers of precious metals to access both value and the power of the state, the chapter reflects on the analytical operations by which resemblance is coded as identity. Sometimes, these operations permit the coherence of multilingual and multiethnic collectivities. At other times, it generates a violent mimesis of state forms of punitive justice. The chapter argues that this vacillation and the categorical instability it reveals are intrinsic to both scientific/analytical discourse about informal economies and popular (and populist) thought more generally.

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