The New School for Social Research

Faculty A-Z

  • Emma Park

    Assistant Professor of History

    Profile:

    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 dissertation, which I am currently revising into a book manuscript tentatively entitled: Infrastructural Attachments: Technologies, Mobility, and the Tensions of Home in Colonial and Postcolonial 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 infrastructures in Kenya have been deeply charged cultural, political, and economic objects. By contrast to the global north, infrastructures in Kenya did not seamlessly produce a ‘state-space.’ A combination of durable policies of colonial austerity and Kenya’s unique material environment has meant that infrastructures were uneven in their reach. This has had implications for the politics of belonging as the absense of infrastrcutures as much as their presence has shaped popular experiences of the state.

    Histories of technology that take as their point of departure this corner of Eastern Africa must, I argue, reckon with a different genealogy of technology: one that considers longer histories of austerity and places the work of enacting infrastructures at its core. In doing so, I challenge a durable and pernicious vision of Africa as place without technologies or technological expertise. Focusing on how infrastructures were made to ‘work’ I argue that, far from being peripheral to the lives of these technological things, African knowledge workers and experts of both technics and culture have been central innovators and maintainers. 

    I am also working on another project with my colleague Kevin Donovan tentatively entitled The Digital Nation: Politics, Value, and Aspiration in Contemporary Kenya, which explores the entangled relationship between Kenya’s largest corporation, Safaricom (once a state-held entity) and the Kenyan state. As across much of the global south, the 1970s-2000s has seen a retraction in state spending in public services, with private capital operating in an “altruistic register” to fill the gap. By contrast to conventional narratives of neoliberalism, we argue that this must not be seen as a simple story of state withdrawal but that attention must be directed to the changing balance of power between public and private both within the state and the corporation. 

    Degrees Held:

    PhD 2017, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

    MA 2014, Concordia University

    BA 2007, Concordia University 

    Professional Affiliations:

    African Studies Association
    4S
    British Institute of East Africa 

    Recent Publications:

    Publication(s)

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

    Articles in Preparation

    “Intimacy and Estrangement: Safaricom, Divisibility, and the Making of the Corporate Nation-State.”

     

    Performances And Appearances:

    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 

    Current Courses:

    Global Histories of Capitalism

    Modern African History

    Science, Tech, Medicine & Soc.

    Development & Humanitarianism

    Independent Study (Open Campus)

    Ind Senior Project (Open Campus)

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