SOAS University of London

Department of Economics

Tobias Franz

BA (Münster; Aix-en-Provence), MSc (Glasgow)
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Tobias Franz
Tobias Franz
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Thesis title:
The Political Economy of Institutional Change and Economic Development in Urban Colombia - Analysing the Case of Medellin (working title)
Year of Study:
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PhD Research

In recent debates about the consequences of increased urbanization, political and administrative decentralization in Latin America and the subsequent new challenges local governments face, the city of Medellín has frequently been used as an exemplary case of successful urban development in general, and of local governance in particular. Since the early 2000s the second city of Colombia has witnessed several transformations in its institutional basis and governance structure. A key figure in this process has been the 2003-elected Mayor Sergio Fajardo. Fajardo, now governor of the Department of Antioquia, who was the first non-traditional politician to ever win a municipal election in the historically conservative political landscape of Medellín. These institutional changes, combined with a decrease in homicide and violence during the same period has brought much attention to the case of Medellín. The award as “Innovative City of the Year” in 2012 by the Urban Land Institute, the Wall Street Journal, and Citi Group has increased the buzz about the development model of Medellín and the “urban miracle” even more and is subject of many recent interdisciplinary academic discussions.

However, many of the analyses fall short in discussing the political economy of the institutional shifts. Combining Khan's historical political economy framework of political settlement with multidisciplinary theoretical approaches, the thesis explores alternative understandings of Medellin's development trajectory. In contrast to conventional good governance approaches to questions of urban economic development, the thesis discusses how the interdependency between power and (informal) institutions is central to the understanding of economic growth and political stability.The thesis finds a productive stagnation and an increased labour market elasticity in Medellin. It argues that important factors of this development are changes in elite interests as well as governance capabilities of rent-creation and -management, which were the result of spatio-economic transformation through transnationalisation on one hand, and urbanisation on the other.

The findings of the thesis are based on results obtained in fieldwork in Colombia in 2014. During fieldwork, I conducted over 50 semi-structured interviews and collected a variety of secondary data. Archive work will bring further secondary empirical data that underline historical political economy explanation of the changes in Medellin.

PhD Publications

Franz, Tobias (2009): Ägyptens Muslimbruderschaft - Ohne Führung, ohne Zukunft? – Contribution to the academic internet-blog

Franz, Tobias (2011): Über die (Un-)Möglichkeit nachhaltiger Wirtschaftspolitik in Madagaskar – Eine Analyse über ein verlorenes Jahrzehnt, FES Library: Antananarivo.

Franz, Tobias (forthcoming in 2015): Urban Governance and Local Economic Development in Latin America: The Case of Medellín. Latin American Perspective, Special Issue 2015

Franz, Tobias (forthcoming in 2016): "Illegal Drugs, (Counter-)insurgency, and Economic Development: A Critical Analysis of 'Plan Colombia'". Development Policy Review.

PhD Conferences

ʺFinancial and Spatial Exclusion in Colombian Urban Areas” at conference Rethinking Urban Fringes in Medellin: Alternative Intervention Models. National University of Colombia, Medellin. March, 2013

ʺFinancial and Spatial Exclusion in Urban Colombia and Latin America”. Latin Lab Brown Bag Series, Columbia University, New York. April, 2013

“Illegal drugs, violence and economic development in Colombia”. Development Studies Association Scotland Conference, University of St. Andrews. September, 2013

ʺThe Corporatization of Local Public Policy in Latin America: The Case of Medellín”, Latin American and European Meeting on Organization Studies, La Habana, Cuba, April 2014

“Urban Governance and Institutional Economic Development in Medellín: An ‘Urban Miracle’?”. Latin American Studies Association Congress 2014, Chicago, May 2014  

“The Political Economy of Crises, Conflicts, Institutional Change and Economic Development in Urban Colombia – The Case of Medellín”. International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy Conference, Naples, September 2014

“Global Markets and Local States in Colombia – Transnational Capitalist Elites in the Context of Economic Liberalization and Political Decentralization”. Latin American Studies Association Congress 2015, Puerto Rico, May 2015

“Political settlements and economic development: a political economy analysis of institutional change and elites in regional Colombia”. World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research, 2015 Conference Rio de Janeiro, September 2015


  • Latin American Studies Association
  • Development Studies Association
  • World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research
  • International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy


  • Economics
  • Development Studies
  • Latin American Studies
  • Urban Studies
  • Economic Geography
  • Urban Planning
  • Political Economy