It has recently been announced that Franklin Obeng-Odoom, who did his PhD in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, is being awarded the prestigious European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE) Joan Robinson Best Book Prize.
The prize is awarded biannually by EAEPE for an outstanding book on political economy published in the preceding two years. In Franklin’s case this was a book that he wrote, titled Property, Institutions and Social Stratification in Africa, published by Cambridge University Press in 2020.
Franklin’s book looks at the experience of African economies as a window into the more general problems of nations and peoples in the Global South who are frustrated by obstacles to balanced and sustainable development. Because they remain mired by poverty, even as privileged elites prosper, a political economic analysis of their situation must necessarily focus on social relations of class and race in the postcolonial context. Franklin’s book on the topic does just that, probing the nature of the problems and seeking the ‘foundations for a new beginning’. It draws from the political economic ideas of Henry George, as well as Marx and an array of specialists in development studies, also weaving in insights from the emerging field of stratification economics. It is a skilful blend, as the EAEPE judges evidently recognised.
An essay reviewing Franklin’s book was published in the Journal of Australian Political Economy (JAPE no.87). It was written by the eminent political economist Walden Bello, doyen of writers and activists struggling for the Global South to get a better deal. His positive assessment of Franklin’s work can be seen, in hindsight, as a portent of the formal accolade it has now been given by EAEPE.
Franklin Obeng-Odoom grew up in Ghana and did his university studies there in the field of land economy. He subsequently went to the UK to undertake a master’s degree in urban economic development at the University of London. Then, casting around for a suitable place to do a PhD on urban development, he was encouraged to come to the Department of Political Economy here at the University of Sydney. It was a win-win situation for him and the department.
Franklin completed a thoroughly researched and well-timed thesis on the distorting effects of neoliberalism on the possibilities for pro-poor urban improvements. After his Ph.D. was awarded, he became a Chancellor’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and then Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney. He is now at the University of Helsinki, Finland, as the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science Associate Professor in Global Development Studies.
To be a winner of the Joan Robinson Best Book Prize for one of his rapidly growing number of books is a great honour. Joan Robinson was a former student of J.M. Keynes and a highly creative and effective exponent of modern political economy. Based in Cambridge but well-known worldwide, she was undoubtedly one of the outstanding political economists of the last century. She came to the University of Sydney in the 1970s at the invitation of the local academic activists who were then just beginning to develop the political economy program here. Her visit gave significant impetus for the local students and staff at that time.
For Franklin Obeng-Odoom to receive the prize named in Joan Robinson’s honour is a further boost, most directly for Franklin himself of course, but for all political economists concerned with contributing through their work to a better future for the peoples of the Global South.