MSc Development Finance

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Commodity Dependence and Economic Development

Course unit fact file
Unit code MGDI60441
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course introduces students to the social and economic challenges faced by countries whose exports (or imports) are almost exclusively composed of raw materials (primary commodities and natural resources) with little or no processing.


The course aims to: 

  • Introduce students to different forms of commodity dependency and how these dependencies have evolved historically.
  • Provide students with an in-depth understanding of the complex social, economic, and political challenges faced by commodity dependent economies and the problems these entail for economic development, commonly referred to as resource curse.
  • Enable students to critically evaluate different explanations and policy solutions for the resource curse proposed by orthodox and heterodox scholars in development and development economics.


The following topics are covered during ten weekly lectures and seminars:

Topic 1. The state of commodity dependence - Historical perspective and stylised facts

Topic 2. Resource curse I - External balances, Dutch disease, and terms of trade

Topic 3. Resource curse II - Internal balances, and crowding out hypothesis

Topic 4. Resource curse III - Good governance, and rent seeking

Topic 5. Resource curse IV - Dependency, colonialism, and the structuralist perspective

Topic 6. Financialisation of commodity markets - Crises and pro-cyclical funding

Topic 7. Managing the resource curse I - ICAs, and commodity-financed industrialization

Topic 8. Managing the resource curse II - GVCs, and commodity-based industrialization

Topic 9. Managing the resource curse III - Political settlement and anti-corruption

Topic 10. Managing the resource curse IV - Resource nationalism

Teaching and learning methods

The teaching material for this course draws on a mix of theoretical literature and country case studies. Country case studies are introduced using different media including peer reviewed academic papers, short videos, podcasts, and policy reports.

Core theoretical debates are introduced during weekly lectures. The theoretical discussions are complemented by country cases studies which are discussed during weekly seminars. In preparation for the weekly seminars, students are required to go through guided readings and additional media references and review the theories covered during the lecture. 

Seminar discussions are facilitated by questions or hypotheses students are asked to evaluate. Emphasis is placed on students’ ability to discuss and apply complex theories to real world examples and critically evaluate theoretical propositions against case study evidence.

Teaching will occasionally and where appropriate draw on expertise from development practitioners based at relevant international organisations such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNTAD), the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), the Commonwealth Secretariat, etc.

The module is assessed by a 2-hour end of semester exam accounting for 60 per cent of the overall grade, a 1,500-word coursework accounting for 40 per cent of the overall grade. In addition, students are asked to deliver a group presentation as a formative assessment. Before submitting the coursework, students are asked to exchange their drafts with peers and prepare a group presentation which compares their work.

The formative assessment is designed to strengthen students’ presentation and group working skills and provides them with an opportunity to present and receive feedback on their coursework before submission. Presentations and subsequent discussions are delivered in a dedicated workshop.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Explain and evaluate complementing and competing explanations for the resource curse put forward by different schools of thought.
  • Identify and evaluate the efficacy of different policies devised to manage the resource curse by referencing contemporary economic and social theories and case study evidence.
  • Understand and appraise internal and external constraints commodity dependent economies face.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically engage with different sets of orthodox and heterodox literature discussing the resource curse and evaluate core contemporary debates.

Practical skills

  • Formulate concise arguments drawing on a diverse set of literature.
  • Use country case studies to critically evaluate and test competing research hypotheses.
  • Understand and analyse key economic and social indicators related to commodity dependency.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Conduct research independently and as part of a team.
  • Present complex theories and case studies in front of an audience.
  • Write high quality country case studies and formulate evidence-based policy advice.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 60%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Oral assessment/presentation 0.01%

Recommended reading

Students are asked to read the latest ‘State of Commodity Dependence’ report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UCTAD) in preparation for the course.  

Students will also benefit from accessing ‘Petronia’, an interactive simulation designed by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) that explores the various policy challenges of a fictional country at the outset of oil production.

Topic-specific readings will be made available before each lecture. The following references provide an overview of current debates around commodity dependency from different theoretical perspectives and will be referenced throughout the course.

  • Arezki, R., R. Boucekkine, J. Frankel, M. Laksaci, R. van der Ploeg (2018) Rethinking the Macroeconomics of Resource-Rich Countries. CEPR Press. Open Access.
  • Nissanke, M., and G. Mavrotas (2010) Commodities, Governance and Economic Development under Globalization. Palgrave Macmillan UK. Available via the library.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Practical classes & workshops 10
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 110

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sophie Van Huellen Unit coordinator

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