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This article examines the roles of courts in state-building and aims to bring the state-building literature into deeper conversation with institutional approaches to the study of courts. Doing so highlights that courts can play important roles in state-building including extracting revenue, coercing subjects, and generating legitimacy for the state by justly adjudicating disputes. Of these, courts’ extractive role has been especially understudied. Yet, courts can raise significant sums through fees, fines, and confiscating property, particularly in less-developed states. These three roles of courts in state-building are explored in two highly disparate cases: the medieval Welsh Marcher lordships and the Union of Islamic Courts in twenty-first century Somalia.



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