• Faculty

  • Emma Park

    Assistant Professor of History


    Office Location
    N - 66 Fifth Avenue

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    Emma Park


    I am an Assistant Professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, where I teach courses on modern Africa, science and technology, global histories of capitalism, and the history of “development.” My current research uses infrastructure development projects to explore transformations in capitalism and state-craft. I mobilize an ethnographically-informed reading of the cultural politics of infrastructures and work from the twentieth-century through to the present. 

    Historians of infrastructures have long argued that infrastructures form the invisible and unremarked background of social life. They are the networks of communication and exchange upon which society depends and the seemingly apolitical material substrate along which state authority extends, binding citizens both to one another and to their state. I challenge this common assertion in my forthcoming book, Infrastructural Attachments: Austerity, Sovereignty, and the Politics of Expertise in Kenya. Through an exploration of three infrastructures ‘in the making’ —roads, radio, and Kenya’s now-famed telephonic banking service, M-PESA—I argue that Kenya’s infrastructural history has been shaped policies of austerity—a discretionary logic that ensures the enrichment and provisioning of the few at the expense of the many. Given this dispensation, projects of infrastructural expansion, and thus the projects of state-building in whose name they were constructed, have always been entangled with projects of marketization.

    If enacting the infrastructural state has relied on state-corporate entanglements, it has also crucially depended on the exploitation and expropriation of Africans’ infrastructural work. While this work has critically enabled infrastructural expansion and maintenance, the centrality of these contributions has been systematically effaced by metropolitan observers and recognized “experts.” In foregrounding these workers and their work, I interrogate how Kenyans’ knowledge and expertise has been rescaled and subsumed, quietly underwriting the development of global infrastructural expertise, the circuits of finance upon which (post)colonial infrastructural expansion has been premised, and the forms of profit-making it has enabled. 

    I am also in the process of completing a co-authored monograph with Kevin P. Donovan, provisionally titled Parastatal: Intimacy & Value in Digital Kenya. It uses Kenya’s largest corporation, Safaricom, as a lens through which to explore how the confluence of information technology and finance is remaking the nature of markets and property, citizenship and the state. I have also begun research for my second single-authored book project, Money Matters: Monetary Regimes, Race, and the Politics of Differentiation in Kenya. This project will chart a cultural history of fiscal life in Kenya from the nineteenth century to the present. Focusing on tax regimes, the post-office savings bank, and contemporary efforts to draw people and their money into global circuits of finance, this book will explore the long history of efforts to “bank the unbanked,” while attending to the popular politics, cultural commentary, and social critique to which these efforts have given rise.   




    Degrees Held

    PhD 2017, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

    MA 2014, Concordia University

    BA 2007, Concordia University 

    Professional Affiliation

    African Studies Association
    British Institute of East Africa 

    Recent Publications


    Book Manuscript: Infrastructural Attachments: Austerity, Sovereignty, and the Politics of Expertise in Kenya [under contract with Duke University Press]

    Article:  “Enacting Radio: Expertise and the Politics of Scale in Colonial Kenya,” Technology and Culture, [under review]

    Article: “ ‘Human ATMs’: M-PESA and the Expropriation of Affective Work in Safaricom’s Kenya,” Africa 90 (5) 2020.  

    Article: “Intimacy and Estrangement: Safaricom, Divisibility, and the Making of the Corporate Nation-State” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa,

    and the Middle East 41 (3) 2021.

    Article: “Intellectual and Cultural Work in Times of Austerity,” Introduction to a special issue on austerity. Co-authored: Emma Park, Derek R. Peterson, Anne Pitcher, Keith Breckenridge. Africa 91 (4) 2021.

    Article: “Knowledge/Seizure: Data, Debt & Rent in Kenya,” (co-authored with Kevin P. Donovan, shared authorship) Antipode 54 (4): 2022.

    Article: “Algorithmic Intimacy: The Data Economy of Predatory Inclusion in Kenya,” (co-authored with Kevin P. Donovan, with Kevin P. Donovan as first Author) Special Issue on “Curious Utopias: Large and Small Blueprints for Human Society,” Social Anthropology 30 (2) 2022.

    Chapter: “The Right to Sovereign Seizure?: Taxation and the Imperial British East Africa Company” [forthcoming in Gurminder Bhambra and Julia McClure, eds. Imperial Inequalities: Taxation and Welfare Across European Empires]

    Chapter: “Privacy, Privation, and Person: Data, Debt, and the Infrastructured Self” (co-authored with Kevin P. Donovan, with Emma Park as first author) [forthcoming, in Richard Rottenburg, ed. Translating Technologies in Africa, Johannesburg: WiTS University Press]

    Between the Nation and the State” - co-authored with Kevin P. Donovan. LIMN. (2016) Issue 7 



    Performances and Appearances


    2021-22, Mellon-Funded Sawyer Seminar, “Currency and Empire: Monetary Policy, Race, and Power” (co-PI with Gustav Peebles. Other conveners: Aaron Jakes, Sanjay Reddy, Paulo dos Santos). The New School, New York

    2022-23, Faculty Fellow, Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, The New School, NYC.

    2020, Faculty Fellow, Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, The New School, NYC.

    2020, Faculty Fellow, Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography, & Social Thought (GIDEST). For a Project Titled: “Digital Debt and the Corporate State in Kenya, Africa’s “Silicon Savannah” The New School, NYC.

    2019, Nominated for Outstanding Achievements in Social Justice Teaching, Eugene Lang College, The New School.

    2018, Faculty Fellow, Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, The New School.

    2017, Earl Lewis Award. University of Michigan.

    2016, Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award. Rackham Graduate School. University of Michigan.

    2016, Sidney Fine Prize for Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor in History. University of Michigan.

    2016, Sweetland Writing Fellowship. University of Michigan.

    2015, Rackham Humanities Research Fellowship. University of Michigan.           

    2014, African Initiatives Grant. African Studies Center (ASC). University of Michigan

    2012-13, Eisenberg Fellow. Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies (EIHS). University of Michigan.

    2010-13, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Graduate Fellowship. Canada.

    Research Interests

    Modern Africa, Science and Technology Studies, Social Studies of Finance, Histories of Capitalism, Colonialism and Empire, Economic Anthropology 

    Future Courses

    Humanitarianism & Development
    LHIS 2111, Fall 2024

    Independent Senior Project
    LHIS 4990, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

    Independent Study
    LHIS 3950, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

    Independent Study
    GHIS 6990, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

    Politics & Poetics
    GHIS 5520, Spring 2025

    Politics & Poetics
    GSOC 5520, Spring 2025

    Politics and Poetics
    LHIS 3110, Fall 2024

    Science, Tech, Medicine & Soc.
    LHIS 3091, Spring 2025

    Past Courses

    Independent Senior Project
    LHIS 4990, Fall 2023, Spring 2024

    Independent Study
    LHIS 3950, Fall 2023, Spring 2024

    Independent Study
    GHIS 6990, Fall 2023, Spring 2024

    Modern African History
    LHIS 2225, Fall 2023

    Politics & Poetics
    GHIS 5520, Fall 2023

    Science, Tech, Medicine & Soc.
    LHIS 3091, Spring 2024

    The Worlds Money Makes
    GHIS 5003, Spring 2024

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