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Kristin PhillipsDirector of Undergraduate Studies and Assistant Professor

Education

PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2009

Research

Specializations

  • Development anthropology
  • Political anthropology
  • Agrarian change
  • Knowledge and representation
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

A sociocultural anthropologist by training, I study inequality and activism in issues of food, environment, and energy. My scholarship traces how people in contemporary African and United States contexts organize politically, engage policies and infrastructures, and vie for voice and resources amidst other everyday pursuits of livelihood, connection, and meaning. In pursuing these themes of inquiry, I have conducted ethnographic research in Tanzania and the United States on food insecurity, education, and development and energy, housing, and infrastructure.

My first project traced how generations of food insecurity have shaped political activism in rural central Tanzania (An Ethnography of Hunger: Politics, Subsistence, and the Unpredictable Grace of the Sun; Indiana University Press: 2018). It emerged from over two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Tanzania and archival research in Tanzania the United States, and the United Kingdom. The book argues that a particular mode of rural political engagement frames the relationship between subsistence farmers and the state and is both constituted and constrained by the unpredictable project of meeting basic needs. This political engagement is characterized by the seasonality of water and food, an ebb and flow of food aid and attention in relation to election cycles and dearth, and strategic code-switching between market, patronage, and rights-based forms of claims-making. The book contributes a theory of “subsistence citizenship” that engages scholarly debates in African studies and anthropology on political activism, development, and humanitarianism. An Ethnography of Hunger was Co-Winner of the 2020 Society for Economic Anthropology Book Prize for best book in the last three years. It was also an Honorable Mention for the 2019 African Studies Association’s Book Prize (formerly the Herskovits Prize), and a finalist for the 2020 Fage & Oliver Prize of the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom. Other publications based on this research have appeared in journals including African Studies ReviewPoLARComparative Education ReviewCritical Studies in Education, and several edited volumes.

Since 2017 I have been collaborating with environmental anthropologist Erin Dean on research on energy, infrastructure, and gender in Tanzania that focuses on people and places unserved by the national electricity grid. The project attends to two distinct but related global movements in the 21st century: energy access (the expansion of basic energy services to the 1.2 billion people in the world who live without electricity) and energy transition (efforts to confront a climate crisis by changing energy production and consumption). We ask how people in Tanzania navigate the convergence and contradictions of these global projects—that seek to expand energy production, markets, and consumption while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions—across unequal relationships, postcolonial histories, and highly gendered ideas about energy, labor, and space. The research has been generously supported by funding from the National Science Foundation. Grounded in the ingenuity, postcolonial politics, and ethical frames of people living off the grid, the project contributes a uniquely gendered and historical perspective to current anthropological debates about environment, infrastructure and economy in the Anthropocene.

In 2021 I launched a new research project on the nexus of energy poverty and housing precarity in the US South. The project explores the roots this relationship in the racialized history of housing and electricity access; analyzes firsthand experiences of energy use, rate-making, and regulation; and plumbs the interconnections and tensions between the fair housing, environmental justice, voting rights, and energy justice movements. The research aims to contextualize and theorize the distinct but oft-conjoined occurrences of energy poverty and housing precarity and to illuminate how history and infrastructure mediate, mitigate, and connect energy, housing, and the human practice of making homes.

Teaching

  • ANT 385: Anthropology & the Environment: People, Nature, Place
  • ANT 190 Freshman Seminar: The Politics of Humanitarianism in Africa
  • ANT 202: Concept and Methods in Cultural Anthropology
  • ANT 207 Foundations in Development Studies
  • ANT 280R Anthropological Perspectives on Africa
  • ANT 385: Energy, Environment, & Culture in Africa
  • AFS 263/IDS 285 Introduction to African Studies
  • In 2015 Kristin D. Phillips was the recipient of a Crystal Apples Teaching Award for Graduate Instruction.