Resources are what states make of them: a cultural approach to the resource curse thesis

Morten Vestergaard Hansen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Since it emerged in the early 1980s, the RCT has developed into a dominant neoliberal perspective to empirically describe and causally challenge the otherwise intuitive belief that natural resource abundance gives developing countries a head-start in the development of their economies. A causal relationship between the abundance of natural resources and the formation of Resource Curses is now commonly believed to exist. This thesis critically challenges this causal belief as it argues that nature alone does not predetermine poor economic or institutional performance. Most previous RCT studies have been based on an ontological reduction of either people or institutions, respectively. Thereby scholarly literature is left but with little choice to focus either narrowly on the utility maximization of individuals or the failures of institutions to promote growth, in both instances as a consequence of the natural resource abundance. These ontological reductions limit the explanatory value of the RCT and question its applicability. By drawing upon Clifford Geert’s interactionist understanding of culture and Alexander Wendt’s Structuration Theory, this paper aims at overcoming these limitations by presenting a cultural approach to the RCT which regards the people and their institutions as ontologically equal entities and mutually constitutive. This approach is applied to the self-governance and self-sufficiency processes of the Greenlandic dependence debate to empirically analyze how people’s culture and identities determine their interests in a certain institutional arrangement determining the commodification of the natural resources. Data has been collected from the national newspapers Sermitsiaq and AG in the period January 1 2008 to October 17 2014, a documentary, articles, books and reports. It finds that natural resource abundance does not to causally develop Resource Curses. These are found to be determined by processes of human action, which intersubjectively constitute either self-help or corporative systems of resource commodification. It is concluded that the RCT literature could benefit from enquires into the importance of these processes.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages79