Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Before the Natural Resource Boon: State-Civil Society Relations and Democracy in Resource Rich Societies

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Before the Natural Resource Boon: State-Civil Society Relations and Democracy in Resource Rich Societies

Article excerpt


There is a well known tendency for oil and mineral wealth to be associated with antidemocratic characteristics in the political structure of a society. (1) Indeed, the concept of the resource curse--that a society is doomed to authoritarianism in the presence of an abundance of valuable natural resources--has become common knowledge in the development studies field. Yet oil and minerals are also a major revenue source in some of the world's most developed democracies.

We seek to distinguish between cases in which natural resource windfalls stunt democratization and the rarer circumstances in which societies reap commodity harvests without sowing the seeds of dictatorship. The effects of a natural resource discovery on the political structure of a society are mediated by the character of state-civil society relations before the discovery. Preexisting state-civil society relations do not simply determine--in binary fashion--whether natural resource wealth will undermine or bolster democracy; such relations shape the trajectories of authoritarianism or democracy along which resource dependent societies will travel. Here we demonstrate three distinct authoritarian paths followed by major oil producers, the common factors leading all of them to authoritarian outcomes, and the differences amongst them inducing them to adopt divergent modes of authoritarianism. We pursue analogous tasks with regard to two natural resource dependent, democratic societies.

The large-n, quantitative studies of Ross (2) and Haber and Menaldo (3) demonstrate that there is no determinate or absolute relationship between resource wealth and political outcomes. These authors, however, differ on whether the apparent causal relationship between resource wealth and authoritarianism is mediated by country-specific variables (4) or is spurious (5). Ross (6) claims that "historical and cultural factors" shape the effects of resource wealth on a country's level of democracy. The specification of these factors is beyond the scope of Ross's large-n research design, and he claims that they must be discerned via case studies of resource rich societies. We develop a generalizable model to explain the variables mediating the relationship between resource wealth and political outcomes, rather than treating them as exogenous and strictly relative to the circumstances of particular countries.

According to the time-series analysis of Haber and Menaldo (7), resource dependent societies tend toward authoritarianism because resource dependence is correlated with other factors that cause antidemocratic outcomes, not because resource dependence itself directly causes these results. Failing to find a relationship between contemporaneous changes in resource wealth and democratization, Haber and Menaldo (8) assert that the politics of resource rich societies are the consequence of "time-invariant and country-specific fixed effects." We posit that the advent of resource wealth, combined with civil society conditions prior to its discovery, shape a society's subsequent trajectory of authoritarianism or democratization. A methodology measuring simultaneous changes in these factors--such as that of Haber and Menaldo (9)--would fail to detect the relationships of political trajectories to long-term levels of resource wealth and conditions in civil society.

Individual case studies may provide a fine-grained image of how resource wealth interacts with other traits of a particular society to produce political outcomes. For example, in his study of Nigeria, Watts (10) demonstrates parallels and continuities between the multi-tiered conflicts afflicting this society under colonialism and its postcolonial history of endemic civil strife. Oil was superimposed upon these conflicts at around the time of independence, raised the stakes of such disputes, and thereby caused them to intensify. We believe it is important not only to retrospectively trace the multifaceted contingencies affecting the relationship between resource wealth and political outcomes in particular societies, but to prospectively predict how a resource discovery will affect a society's political configuration. …

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