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Institutions and place: bringing context back into the study of the resource curse


Scholars across the social sciences have debated whether resource dependence curses or blesses national development prospects, with a growing consensus on mixed outcomes and the centrality of institutions. Mainstream literature, however, falls short in depicting what the resource curse entails: the claim that “institutions matter” usually has a narrow meaning that largely overlooks the significance of place. A review of the paved road in research reveals a need to critically integrate approaches to studying the curse, as well as more insightful research on which institutions matter, how, and where. Expounding six governance challenges and thirteen development traps, I set out a simple yet crucial lesson: resource-based development presents both blessings and curses for any given resource-rich country in any given time period, and institutions are likely to be part of the explanation. I sketch how a “context matters” framework could guide future research, with illustrations from the Latin American experience.

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Journal of Institutional Economics
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