Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Emory University


A sociocultural anthropologist by training, Phillips studies inequality and activism in issues of energy, development, and food insecurity. Her 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.

Phillips now has two concurrent book 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 Phillips has 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. They 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.

Selected publications

Phillips, Kristin D. (accepted). Southern Politics, Southern Power Prices: Race, Utility Regulation, and The Framing of Value. Economic Anthropology.

Phillips, Kristin D. The Future Sits in Places: Electricity, Value, and Infrastructural Triage in Tanzania. Economic Anthropology. 9(2): 223-239.

Phillips, Kristin D. 2020. “Prelude to a Grid: Nature, Labor, and Cosmology on a Tanzanian Electric Frontier.” Cambridge Journal of Anthropology. 38(2): 71-87.**

Phillips, Kristin D. 2018. An Ethnography of Hunger: Politics, Subsistence, and the Unpredictable Grace of the Sun. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Phillips, Kristin D. 2013. “Dividing the Labor of Development: Education and Participation in Rural Tanzania,” Comparative Education Review 57(4), 637-661.**

Phillips, Kristin D. 2010. “Pater Rules Best: Political Kinship and Party Politics in Tanzania’s Presidential Elections”. PoLAR: Political & Legal Anthropology Review 33(2), 109-132.**

Phillips, Kristin D. 2009. “Hunger, Healing, and Citizenship in Rural Tanzania”. African Studies Review. 52(1): 23–45.**