Alondra Nelson

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Alondra Nelson
Born United States Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
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
Employer Columbia University
Known for science and technology studies; political sociology; cultural sociology; African American studies
Alondra Nelson at Columbia University Alondra Nelson's Website

Alondra Nelson is an award-winning American social scientist and writer. She is the inaugural Dean of Social Science [1] at Columbia University in the City of New York.


Nelson is Dean of Social Science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Columbia and professor of sociology and gender studies. She is the first African American to be tenured in the Department of Sociology at this university. She is former Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.[2]

From 2003-2009, she was Assistant Professor and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Sociology at Yale University,[3][4] where she was the recipient of the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching and a Faculty Fellow in Trumbull College.[5] At Yale, Nelson was the first Black woman to join the Department of Sociology faculty.

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

Nelson is a member of the Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society and advises the Data and Society Research Institute. She also serves on the Social Media Task Force Committee of the American Sociological Association, the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society, and the Board of Governors for the Society of Fellows at Columbia.

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, and the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University. She serves on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science and Social Text.


Nelson writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine and inequality.[6][7] Named one of "13 Notable Blacks In Technology" By Black Voices,[8] she established the Afrofuturism on-line community in 1998 and edited an eponymous special issue of the journal Social Text in 2002.[9]

Nelson's writing deals with the intersection of technology, culture, and new media, and how these lenses can be used to address the continuing impacts of African Diaspora. She is among a small group of critical theorists studying and discussing Afrofuturism, an emerging theoretical and cultural aesthetic. Particularly, her essay Future Texts lends insight to the inequitable access to technologies between whites and blacks. Alondra Nelson explained Afrofuturism as a way of looking at the subject position of black people which covers themes of alienation and aspirations for a utopic future. The idea of 'alien' or 'other' is a theme often explored. Additionally, Nelson notes that discussions around race, access, and technology often bolster uncritical claims about a so-called “digital divide”. The digital divide overemphasizes the association of racial and economic inequality with limited access to technology. She writes, "Blackness gets constructed as always oppositional to technologically driven chronicles of progress." [10] Nelson explores the way artists and writers have adopted older forms of technology and retrofitted them to promote a black aesthetic.

She is also co-editor, with Thuy Linh Tu, of Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life, one of the first scholarly works to examine the racial politics of contemporary technoculture.[11][12] Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe,[13] The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education,[14] among other publications.

Awards and Fellowships[edit]

Nelson has received several awards over the course of her career. 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 book was also a finalist for the 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." [15]

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

Personal life[edit]

Born in Bethesda, Maryland, Nelson was raised in San Diego, California. She attended the University of San Diego High School.

In 2000, she married Ben Williams, an editor at New York Magazine. They later divorced. She was romantically linked to Harvard University Law professor Randall Kennedy.



Articles and Book Chapters[edit]


  1. ^ Jasen, Georgette. "Faculty of Arts and Sciences Names New Divisional Deans for Social Sciences and Humanities", Columbia News, 24 June 2014.
  2. ^ Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.
  3. ^ Smallwood, Scott and Flores, Christopher. "Yale Seeks 'Next Generation' of Stars in Black Studies", Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 February 2002.
  4. ^ Lee, Brian. "Prof Cornel West heads south to Princeton". Yale Daily News, 15 April 2002.
  5. ^ "Junior Faculty Win Awards In Support of Their Research", Yale University Office of Public Affairs, 7 November 2008 .
  6. ^ Alondra Nelson, Columbia University
  7. ^ "Scholars Question the Image of the Internet as a Race-Free Utopia", Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 September 2001.
  8. ^ "13 Notable Blacks In Technology," Black Voices
  9. ^ John Pfeiffer, Review of Alondra Nelson, guest ed. Social Text 71: Afrofuturism. Utopian Studies 14:1 (2003): 240-43.
  10. ^ Nelson, Alondra (2002). "Introduction: Future Texts". Social Text 20 (2): 1–15. doi:10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-1. 
  11. ^ Estrada,Sheryl. "What Does it Mean to be Hi-Tech Anyway?", Black Issues Book Review, 1 January 2002.
  12. ^ [1] Reviews of Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies.
  13. ^ "Beyond Roots", Boston Globe, 10 February 2006.
  14. ^ "Henry Louis Gates's Extended Family", The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 February 2010; "The Social Life of DNA", The Chronicle of Higher Education, Big Ideas for the Next Decade, 29 August 2010.
  15. ^ Alondra Nelson receives Just Wellness Award

External links[edit]