Research Interests

Prof. Jones Luong’s research questions ask why we observe certain institutional outcomes under dynamic circumstances. For instance, what do we observe in newly emergent states with multiple competing sub-national identities? How do institutions change when states move away from planned to market-oriented economies. These questions have important implications in the post-Cold War era, under which new states emerged out of the Soviet Union, shifting toward market economies. For most of her career, therefore, she examined the politics of the five Central Asian republics that gained independent in 1991 (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). Yet, her rich theoretical background on the study of institutions has enabled her to deepen her knowledge of other regions, including Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Oil and Economic Development

Prof. Jones Luong became first interested in the oil industry during her project on electoral institutions in Kazakhstan in the late 1990’s. A number of private oil companies flowed into Kazakhstan after being rejected by Russia, which moved towards the nationalization of its oil industry. The types of ownership structure in the oil industry vary across countries and have important institutional implications for economic development.

Her recent work examines this relationship between the resource curse and institutions. The abundance of natural resources has been regarded as a “curse” due to its apparent association with poor economic performance across regions, known as the “paradox of plenty.” The August 2010 publication of her co-authored book, Oil is Not a Curse: Ownership Structure and Institutions in the Soviet Successor States (Cambridge University Press) reveals that oil per se is not detrimental to economic growth. Rather, the ownership structure of a natural resource industry is a critical factor for the quality of institutions, which in turn influences economic growth.

The book also argues that domestic factors such as alternative sources of export revenue and the level of political contestation may be important determinants for ownership structure. Her work directly challenges the doctrine that the abundance of natural resources is a curse, especially for developing countries.

Teaching Philosophy and Courses

In addition to her dedication to research, teaching has been a central part of her career.

“I have viewed it as an opportunity not only to share my knowledge and expertise with students but also to inspire students to develop their own research interests while equipping them with the necessary tools to do so. At the same time, I have found in teaching a source of inspiration for developing new research interests of my own.”

Prof. Jones Luong is currently teaching an undergraduate course, “The Roots of Radical Political Islam” in Winter 2012. The course is designed to help students understand the rise of radical and militant political Islam since the 1970s, by examining domestic factors, such as repressive governments and rampant poverty, and international factors, such as the Iranian Revolution and U.S. imperialism.

Prof. Jones Luong received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the Department of Government at Harvard University in 1998 and held professorships at Yale and Brown. She has taught courses on political economy, identity politics, and methodology in the social sciences. Her past courses include:

  • “The Roots of the Resource Curse: Why are the World's Richest Countries the Poorest, most Corrupt, and Unstable?”
  • “Markets in States in Comparative Perspective”
  • “The Roots of Radicalism: Understanding the Global Islamist Threat”
  • “Russian Politics”
  • “The Politics of Identity”
  • “Strategies in Research Design”

“Michigan is an amazing research university with opportunities to collaborate with colleagues and graduate students,” remarked Prof. Jones Luong when asked why she decided to move to Ann Arbor from Providence, Rhode Island.

Her office is located on the seventh floor of Haven Hall (7632). She can be contacted via her e-mail: