AAA 2016 CfP for “A Cursed Model: Exploring Resource ‘Cursed’ Nations’ Quotidian Economies”

Chima Anyadike-Danes (UC Irvine) and I are organizing the following panel for the upcoming American Anthropological Association meetings. Get in touch with us by April 7 if you are interested in being on the panel!

A cursed model: Exploring resource ‘cursed’ nations’ quotidian economies

In early 2016, “resource curse”—the notion that ‘favourable natural resource endowment may be less beneficial…than the conventional wisdom might suppose’ (Auty 1993:1)—returned, with a vengeance, to the pages of business journals. Zambia (McGroarty and Parkinson 2016), Papua New Guinea, and Mongolia (Hoyle 2016) are weathering the shutdown of some of the world’s largest mines. While the recent sharp fall in oil prices, is regarded as threatening even Norway and Canada’s supposedly stable economies. The organizers begin this conversation from an Inner Asian vantage point, a region where an excess of fortune is often considered a curse of sorts (Empson 2012, Broz and Willerslev 2012). However, they invite applications from scholars working globally to reconsider the nature of the “resource curse” as “cursing” has long been examined by anthropologists, as a corollary to virtually all aspects of economic sociality (Frazer 1890, Malinowski 1922, Comaroff and Comaroff 1993). While the “resource curse” is associated with the almost instantaneous occurrence of extremes of gains and losses, this panel explores whether there other sides to the “curse?”

The “resource curse” first struck Mongolia’s in 2011, just after its GDP growth had reached 17.5%. This was the ‘wolf’ economy’s high point. Even then people were wary of the ‘curse’ though; the former vice finance minister suggested Mongolia needed to “draw on the best characteristics of Canadian, Chilean and Norwegian economic models, while maintaining its uniqueness” to ensure success (Hutagt 2011). Since the fall, the development of some of the world’s largest copper and coal deposits, Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi, has come to a halt, and the self-congratulatory certitude of the ‘wolf economy’ has been replaced with discussion of Mongolia’s ‘resource curse’ (Tuvshinjargal and Avralt-Od 2015). Mongolia’s ‘curse’ has been variously blamed on: China’s slowing economy, the greedy obstinacy of “resource nationalist” politicians and populace, and international financial institutions’ oversized role in politics.

Over the years the anthropology of extractive industries has produced increasingly complex accounts of the varied interests—law, cosmologies, economic ideologies—that actors invoke to justify their actions. However, underlying this has been a focus on typically three sets of actors: the state, the multinational corporations, and the local community (Ballard and Banks 2003). The approach of those international investors, financial analysts, and academics devoting analytical attention to ‘resource cursed’ nations has a different focus. They treat extractive industries as pervasive; regarding them as the motors of these economies, and subordinate seemingly all other economic activity to them. It is this all-encompassing focus that attracts this panel’s attention and it scrutinizes its effects and the analytical opportunities presents at different scales and locations (Gilberthorpe and Papyrakis 2015). Amongst the questions it raises are: how are parties less directly involved in and associated with the mining boom and bust, including economic and political elites, faring? As they reorient their activities away from mining, how are particular international partnerships, and certain national elites and institutions coping? Indeed, to what extent are such reorientations regarded as desirable?

Those wishing to participate in this panel should send preliminary versions of their abstracts to Marissa Smith at or Chima Anyadike-Danes at by the 7th of April 2016.

(Works Cited)

Auty, Richard. 1993. Sustaining Development in Mineral Economies: The Resource Curse Thesis. London: Routledge.

Ballard, Chris, and Glenn Banks. 2003. “Resource Wars: the Anthropology of Mining.” Annual Review of Anthropology 32: 287–313.

Broz, Ludek, and Rane Willerslev. 2012. “When Good Luck Is Bad Fortune: Between Too Little and Too Much Hunting Success in Siberia.” Social Analysis 56(2): 73–89.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff, ed. 1993. Modernity and its Malcontents: Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa. Chicago: UChicago Press.

Empson, Rebecca. 2012. “The Dangers of Excess: Accumulating and Dispersing Fortune in Mongolia.” Social Analysis 56(1): 117–132.

Frazer, James George. 1890. The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion. London: Macmillan and Company.

Gilberthorpe, Emma, and Elissaios Papyrakis. 2015. “The Extractive Industries and Development: the Resource Curse at the Micro, Meso and Macro Levels.” The Extractive Industries and Society 2(2): 381–390.

Hoyle, Rhiannon. 2016. “Mongolia: Land of Lost Opportunity.” The Wall Street Journal. March 21, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016.

Hutagt, Ganhuyag Chuluun. “Wolf Economy.” Presentation at TEDxUlaanbaatar, 2011. Accessed March 28, 2016.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge and Kenan Paul.

McGroarty, Patrick and Joe Parkinson. 2016. “Mining Collapse Cripples Africa’s Dreams of Prosperity.” The Wall Street Journal. March 4, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016.

Tuvshinjargal, D., and P. Avralt-Od. 2015. “The Wolf Economy and Natural Resource Trap.” Journal of Economics, Business and Management 3(8): 812–819.



    1. I’ve already responded to Tuya in another message, but thought I might as well also say here that we have finalized the lineup and I will be posting more details about the exact time and place for the panel when that information becomes available. Hope to see you there!


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