Corruption, Natural Resources and Development: From Resource Curse to Political Ecology.

Author:Parker, Dominic
Position:Book review

Corruption, Natural Resources and Development: From Resource Curse to Political Ecology edited by Aled Williams and Philippe Le Billion (Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK, 2017). ISBN 978 1 78536 119 7, Hardback.

I read this book as an economist, as an outsider. I was familiar with the resource curse and corruption literatures, but was unfamiliar with the term "political ecology." This book, which is an edited volume of thirteen fascinating case studies, has convinced me the approach has many insights to offer in the area of natural resource governance.

What is political ecology? Its scope is broad and interdisciplinary. Scholars in the field draw from academic disciplines ranging from geography, anthropology, development studies, political science, sociology, forestry, and environmental history. Two assumptions guide its approach, and these are emphasized throughout Williams and Le Billion's book. First, returns from natural resources are unequally distributed within countries and communities. Second, this unequal distribution has dynamic effects on political institutions and the power relationships that result.

The emphasis on power is what most clearly connects political ecology with "corruption", which is the book's theme. The editors write that "power is a core concept in political ecology." What is power? Here it is "the ability to benefit" from natural resources. The ability comes from exclusionary practices through regulation, force, and other means.

It is in this context that the book assesses corruption. The word "corruption" is not concretely defined, but it seems to mostly refer to the exercise of power over natural resources, for private gain, by public officials who are entrusted with discretionary oversight of public resources. Such discretionary control of resources requires power, raising questions about how power is established and how it can be controlled. The answers are case-specific. The chapters in the book demonstrate this. They highlight how corruption can be viewed not only as a principal-agency failure, but also as a mechanism, albeit imperfect, for organizing economic transactions in the absence of clear alternatives. This is one of the strongest arguments in favor of the book's approach. Through careful and detailed examples, it pushes forward our understanding of the sources and function of corrupt practices.

The thirteen chapters are divided into two sections. The first section, which is likely most germane for...

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