Susana Romero Sanchez

Postdoctoral Associate


I am a historian of modern Latin America, with an emphasis on Colombia. My research focuses on ideas and practices of economic development and modernization, urban and agrarian history, and state formation. 

I am currently working on a book manuscript titled The Building State: Urbanization, Rural Modernization and the Reinvention of History in Colombia, 1920-1957. It examines the intense urbanization of Colombia during the mid-twentieth century as a historically contingent process. By looking at the origins and evolution of the urban development plans implemented in Colombia’s main cities, my book brings the unpredictable and contradictory nature of urban expansion to the fore. In particular, I analyze the role of housing construction and subsidized credit as privileged state policies to modernize Colombian society and promote economic development. By focusing on the ways in which local interests, in both rural and urban areas, shaped state policies on the ground, my book shows that urban-oriented programs in fact emerged from the unexpected outcomes of rural modernization campaigns. Therefore, my work puts rural change at the center of the history of urban development policies. 

In connection to my book manuscript, I am also exploring community development politics, which revolved around the ideas and practices undergirding community-based initiatives of social “engineering.” I focus on the reworking of planning practices and the reconceptualization of development notions in Colombia, by examining the role played by CINVA (the Inter-American Center for Housing and Planning, the Organization of American States housing agency established in Bogotá in 1951), a prominent promoter of community development programs in all Latin America, in those processes. CINVA experts redefined rural and urban development by voiding these reformulated concepts of their historical particularities. 

Broadly, my research reveals that the construction and justification of development narratives is a historical process in which the unforeseen consequences of policies are erased and reinterpreted. This process of erasure and reinterpretation has given rise to the universalist, teleological, and ahistorical explanations that characterize developmentalist theories.