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Kristin PhillipsAssociate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies


  • PhD, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2009



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

As a sociocultural anthropologist with regional interests in East Africa and the southern United States, my research examines the basic human project of ‘getting by’ in an age of planetary reckoning. I study how people understand and live with poverty and inequality; how they engage and experience policies and infrastructures; and how they vie for voice and resources amidst other everyday pursuits of livelihood, connection, and meaning.

My first book 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). An Ethnography of Hunger was Co-Winner of the 2020 Society for Economic Anthropology Book Prize for best book in the last three years an Honor, an Honorable Mention for the 2019 African Studies Association’s Book Prize, and a finalist for the 2020 Fage & Oliver Prize of the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom.

I now have two concurrent research projects on energy, poverty, and infrastructure, both funded by the National Science Foundation. The first, “Energy Burden and the Making and Meaning of Home” (NSF #2218064) is an ethnography of the disproportionate energy burden (spending more than 10% of income on energy costs) on low-income households in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and its significance in their struggle to secure housing and make meaningful homes. The project is centered on the artifact of the electricity bill, which has come to represent to many households looming disconnection, eviction, and the deep spin of vulnerabilities they entail. This book project documents the 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.

Since 2017 I have also collaborated with Erin Dean to study energy, infrastructure, and gender in Tanzania. The project (NSF #1853185 and NSF #1853109), focuses on people and places unserved by the national electricity grid. We ask how people in Tanzania navigate the convergence and contradictions of two global projects—energy access and energy transition—that seek to both expand energy production, markets, and consumption and also reduce carbon emissions in the context of unequal relationships, postcolonial histories, and highly gendered ideas about energy, labor, and space. 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.


  • 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.