Profile

Alondra Nelson is professor of sociology and gender studies and Dean of Social Science at Columbia University, where she has served as director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She is Chair-elect of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology.

Her most recent book, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (Beacon Press, 2016), traces how claims about ancestry are marshaled together with genetic analysis in a range of social ventures. She also takes up these themes in several publications that are among the earliest empirical scholarly investigations of direct-to-consumer genetic testing: “Bio Science: Genetic Ancestry Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry” (Social Studies of Science 38, 2008), "The Factness of Diaspora: The Social Sources of Genetic Genealogy" (in Revisiting Race in a Genomics Age, Rutgers University Press, 2008), and "DNA Ethnicity as Black Social Action?"(Cultural Anthropology 28, 2013).

Nelson is also the author of Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), which was recognized with four scholarly awards, including the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award from the Eastern Sociological Society and the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the American Sociological Association (Section on Race, Gender and Class). A finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award, Body and Soul is the first book-length exploration of the radical organization’s health-focused activities.

In addition to these works, she has edited three works: Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee; Rutgers University Press, 2012); "Afrofuturism," a special issue of Social Text (Duke, 2002); and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh N. Tu; New York University Press, 2001).

Nelson's research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is a member of the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society, sits on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science, Social Text, and Public Culture, and serves on the board of advisors of the Data & Society Research Institute. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Science, Boston Globe, and on National Public Radion, among other venues.

Nelson received her B.A. (magna cum laude), from the University of California at San Diego, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her Ph.D. from New York University in 2003.