Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson
Dean of Social Science
+1 212 851 7081
Office Hours: 
By appointment: Email Denisse Pineda (
Areas of Interest: 
Race and Ethnicity; Gender; Science, Knowledge, and Technology; Biomedicine and Health; Social Movements and Political Sociology; Culture; Theory

Ph.D., New York University, 2003

Biographical Note: 

Alondra Nelson is professor of sociology and gender studies and Dean of Social Science at Columbia University, where she has served as director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She is Chair-elect of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge and Technology.

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 takes up these themes in several 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.

In addition to these works, she has edited three volumes: 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).

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. In 2014, she began new ethnographic research that examines grassroots responses to the STEM-field crisis.

Nelson's 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.

Visit Professor Nelson's website, read her blog, follow news about The Social Life of DNA on Facebook, follow news about Body and Soul on Facebook, and join her on Twitter here and here.