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Alondra Nelson

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Name  Alondra Nelson
Role  Writer
Employer  Columbia University

Alondra Nelson justpublics365commonsgccunyedufiles201311A
Alma mater  University of California, San Diego New York University
Occupation  Dean of Social Science; Professor of Sociology and former Director, Institute for Research on Women Gender, and Sexuality; Author
Known for  science and technology studies; political sociology; cultural sociology; African American studies
Website  Alondra Nelson at Columbia University Alondra Nelson's Website
Books  Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination
Education  New York University, University of California, San Diego

Alondra Nelson: DNA, Race, and Reparations

Alondra Nelson (born 1968) is the fourteenth President of the Social Science Research Council. An award-winning American sociologist and author, she is also professor of sociology at Columbia University in the City of New York, where prior to her role as president of the SSRC, she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science , as well as Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality.


Her research examines the intersections of science, technology, and inequality. She has authored or edited four books including, most recently, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome.

Alondra nelson the black panther party and health care equality


Nelson received her B.A. in anthropology with high distinction from the University of California at San Diego, graduating magna cum laude in 1994. At UC San Diego, she was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from New York University in 2003.

From 2003-2009, she was Assistant Professor and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Sociology at Yale University, where she was the recipient of the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching Excellence and was a Faculty Fellow in Trumbull College. At Yale, Nelson was the first black woman to join the Department of Sociology faculty.

Nelson was recruited to Columbia from Yale in 2009. She is the first African American to be tenured in the Department of Sociology at this institution. She has directed the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, is the founding co-director of the Columbia University Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Council, and was the inaugural Dean of Social Science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia.

Nelson was a member of the Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Data and Society Research Institute in New York city and the Center for Research on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics at the Columbia University Medical Center. In September 2016, Nelson joined the World Economic Forum Network on AI, the Internet of Things and the Future of Trust. She has served on the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Board of Governors for the Society of Fellows at Columbia. She is Chair of the American Sociological Association's Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section and an elected member of the Sociological Research Association.

Nelson has been a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at the London School of Economics, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, the Bavarian American Academy, and the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University. She sits on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science, Public Culture, and Social Text.


Nelson writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine and inequality. Her book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination was praised by Publishers Weekly as deserving "commendation for its thoughtfulness and thoroughness," was noted as "a much-needed and major work that will set the standard for scholars" by the American Historical Review, and was hailed by leading scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as "a revelation" and "a tremendously important book." Body and Soul was recognized with several awards, and inspired an October 2016 special issue of the American Journal of Public Health on the Black Panther Party's health legacy.

Kirkus Reviews described The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome, Nelson's book about the uses of genetic ancestry testing in Black communities, as a "meticulously detailed" work that "adds another chapter to the somber history of injustice toward African-Americans, but... one in which science is enriching lives by forging new identities and connections to ancestral homelands." The Social Life of DNA is a finalist for the 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction.

Named one of "13 Notable Blacks In Technology" by Black Voices, she established the Afrofuturism on-line community in 1998 and edited an eponymous special issue of the journal Social Text in 2002.

Nelson's writing deals with technology and new media, science, and medicine and how these sites shed light on social inequality. She is among a small group of social theorists of Afrofuturism. Particularly, her essay "Future Texts" lends insight onto the inequitable access to technologies. Nelson explained Afrofuturism as a way of looking at the subject position of black people that covers themes of alienation and aspirations for a better future. Additionally, Nelson notes that discussions around race, access, and technology often bolster uncritical claims about the "digital divide." The digital divide framing, she argues, may overemphasize the role of access to technology in creating inequality as opposed to other drivers of inequality. Noting the racial stereotyping work of the "digital divide" concept, she writes, "Blackness gets constructed as always oppositional to technologically driven chronicles of progress."

She is co-editor with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee of Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. Nelson is also co-editor, with Thuy Linh N. Tu, of Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life, one of the first scholarly works to examine the racial politics of contemporary technoculture. Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.

Honors and recognition

Nelson has received several awards over the course of her career in addition to the Poorvu teaching award at Yale. Her book, Body and Soul, was recognized with the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, the Letitia Woods Brown Award, the Best Book Award from the Association for Humanist Sociology and the American Sociological Association's Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award (Section on Race, Class and Gender). This work was also a finalist for the 2012 C. Wright Mills Award.

In 2013, Nelson received the Just Wellness Award from the Third Root Community Health Center for writing Body and Soul, a "work at the nexus of healing and social justice."

Nelson is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Personal life

She was born in Bethesda, Maryland in 1968, the daughter of Robert Nelson, a career member of the U.S. Navy and retired Master Chief Petty Officer, and Delores Nelson, a cryptographer and systems analyst for the U.S. Army and Department of Defense. The eldest of four siblings, she was raised in San Diego, California. She attended the University of San Diego High School, a private, college-preparatory school.


Alondra Nelson Wikipedia