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
Website Alondra Nelson at Columbia University Alondra Nelson's Website

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


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 UCSD, 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,[2][3] where she was the recipient of the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching and was a Faculty Fellow in Trumbull College.[4] 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 is formerly directed the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality and is currently Dean of Social Science[5] for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia.[6]

Nelson is a member of the Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society. She is a member of the Board of Advisors 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. She is 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, the Bavarian American Academy, and the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University. She serves 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.[7][8] 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."

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."

Named one of "13 Notable Blacks In Technology" By Black Voices,[9] she established the Afrofuturism on-line community in 1998 and edited an eponymous special issue of the journal Social Text in 2002.[10]

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." [11] Nelson explores the way artists and writers have adopted older forms of technology and retrofitted them to promote a black aesthetic.

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.[12][13] Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe,[14] The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education,[15] among other publications.

Awards and Fellowships[edit]

Nelson has received several awards over the course of her career in addition to the Poorvu teaching award. 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." [16]

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.



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

External links[edit]