Alondra Nelson

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Alondra Nelson
Born 1968
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater University of California, San Diego, New York University
Occupation Sociologist
Known for science and technology studies
political sociology
social movements
cultural sociology
social theory
African American studies
Title Dean of Social Science, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University; Professor of Sociology, Columbia University
Board member of Data and Society Research Institute
Website Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson (born 1968) is an award-winning American sociologist and author. 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 Excellence 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 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,[5] and is now Dean of Social Science[6] for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia.[7]

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-Elect of the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association; her term at Chair begins in August 2017.

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.[8][9] 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 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."

Named one of "13 Notable Blacks In Technology" by Black Voices,[10] she established the Afrofuturism on-line community in 1998 and edited an eponymous special issue of the journal Social Text in 2002.[11]

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."[12]

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.[13][14] Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe,[15] The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education,[16] 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 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 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."[17]

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[edit]

Born in Bethesda, Maryland in 1968, Nelson was raised in San Diego, California. She attended the University of San Diego High School.



  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. ^ Columbia University Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Council
  6. ^ Watson, Jamal. "Two African-American Scholars Join Ranks of Deans", DIVERSE: Issues in Higher Education, 22 May 2014.
  7. ^ Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.
  8. ^ Alondra Nelson, Columbia University
  9. ^ "Scholars Question the Image of the Internet as a Race-Free Utopia", Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 September 2001.
  10. ^ "13 Notable Blacks In Technology", Black Voices
  11. ^ John Pfeiffer, Review of Alondra Nelson, guest ed. Social Text 71: Afrofuturism. Utopian Studies 14:1 (2003): 240-43.
  12. ^ Nelson, Alondra (2002). "Introduction: Future Texts". Social Text. 20 (2): 1–15. doi:10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-1. 
  13. ^ Estrada,Sheryl. "What Does it Mean to be Hi-Tech Anyway?", Black Issues Book Review, 1 January 2002.
  14. ^ [1] Reviews of Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies.
  15. ^ "Beyond Roots", Boston Globe, 10 February 2006.
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ Alondra Nelson receives Just Wellness Award

External links[edit]