Alondra Nelson is professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University, where she has served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She is President-elect of the Social Science Reseach Council and Chair-elect of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology. Prior to joining Columbia in 2009, Nelson was on the faculty of Yale University, where she received the Poorvu Award for interdisciplinary teaching excellence.
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 took up these themes in a series of publications that are among the earliest empirical 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). The Social Life of DNA will soon be available in an Arabic translation and is a finalist for the 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction.
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 and has been translated into French.
In addition, Nelson 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).
Professor Nelson is an interdisciplinary social scientist whose research focuses on how science and its applications may shape the social world, including aspects of personal identification, racial formation, and collective action. In turn, she also explores the ways in which social groups reject, challenge, engage and, in some instances, adopt and mobilize conceptualizations of race, ethnicity, and gender derived from scientific and technical domains. She recently began new ethnographic research that examines grassroots responses to the STEM-field crisis and a study of science and technology policy in the Obama administration.
Nelson's research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She was 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 Directors of the Data & Society Research Institute. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the Washington Post, Science, Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio, among other venues.
Professor Nelson was an external fellow at the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. She has also been a visiting fellow at the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, the Bavarian-American Academy, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Academy of Advanced African Studies at the University of Bayreuth.
Raised in Southern California, 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.