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A conditional theory of the ‘political resource curse:’ oil, autocrats, and strategic contexts

Ahmadov, Anar (2011) A conditional theory of the ‘political resource curse:’ oil, autocrats, and strategic contexts. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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A burgeoning literature argues that the abundance of oil in developing countries strengthens autocratic rule and erodes democracy. However, extant studies either show the average cross-national correlation between oil and political regime or develop particularistic accounts that do not easily lend themselves to theorizing. Consequently, we know little of the causal mechanisms that potentially link oil wealth to undemocratic outcomes and the conditions that would help explain the ultimate, not average, effect of oil on political regime. This study develops a conditional theory of the “political resource curse.” It does so by undertaking a statistical reassessment of the relationship between oil wealth and political regime and a nuanced qualitative examination of a set of carefully selected cases in order to contribute to developing an adequate account of causal mechanisms that transmit and conditions that shape the relationship between oil abundance and autocracy. It draws on qualitative and quantitative evidence collected over eighteen months of fieldwork in oil-rich former Soviet countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, and the ‘counterfactual’ oil-poor Kyrgyzstan. Employing a theoretical framework that draws on insights from the rentier state theory, historical institutionalism, and rational choice institutionalism, I trace, compare, and contrast the processes that potentially link oil wealth to regime outcomes in these countries between 1989 and 2010. The findings strongly suggest that political regime differences can be better explained by the interaction of oil wealth with several structural and institutional variables rather than by oil abundance or another single factor alone. A thorough qualitative analysis of the post-Soviet cases shows that the causal mechanisms hypothesized in the ‘resource curse’ literature were neither necessarily present, nor uniform across these cases and throughout the post-Soviet period. This was because a particular interaction of exogenous variables and oil wealth affected the causal mechanisms differently, ultimately entailing different regime outcomes. The spread of alternative political elites, relative size of the ethnic minority with ties to a powerful kin state, and oil production geography were key exogenous factors that consistently interacted with oil in affecting the political regimes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Anar Ahmadov
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Hughes, James

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