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Alondra Nelson

Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University

Governing Board Member, SOF/Heyman, Columbia University (2013–2016)

Headshot of Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson is Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.

Her book, The Social Life of DNA: Race and Reconciliation after the Genome (Beacon Press, 2015), traces how claims about ancestry are marshaled together with genetic analysis in a range of social ventures. She takes up these themes in several recent 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. Through its activism, Nelson argues, the Black Panther Party advanced a “social health” frame—a distinctive, expansive conceptualization of well-being that articulated biological wellness with both economic justice and racial equality and that would anticipate contemporary debates about racial health disparities.

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

Nelson's research explores the production of knowledge about human difference in biomedicine and technoscience and the circulation of these ideas in the public sphere: Her 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.

Her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. From 2006-2007, she 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 International Center for Advanced Study at New York University, the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, the Bavarian-American Academy in Munich, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and the Academy of Advanced African Studies at the University of Bayreuth. Prior to joining Columbia University, Nelson was on the faculty of Yale University, where she received the Poorvu Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching Excellence.

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.