Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson (born 1968), an American writer and academic, is President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). An award-winning researcher, she is also the Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. She was previously professor of sociology at Columbia University in the City of New York, where she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science,[1] as well as Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality.

Alondra Nelson
Alma materUniversity of California, San Diego
New York University
Known forScience and technology studies
Political sociology
Social movements
Cultural sociology
Social theory
African American studies
Office14th President of the Social Science Research Council
PredecessorIra Katznelson
Board member ofAndrew W. Mellon Foundation
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Russell Sage Foundation
Center for Research Libraries
AwardsMember of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
WebsiteAlondra Nelson

She writes and lectures widely on the intersections of science, technology, and social inequality. She has authored or edited four books including, most recently, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome.


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 UC San Diego, she was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from New York University in 2003.

From 2003 to 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 a Faculty Fellow in Trumbull College.[4] At Yale, Nelson was the first African American woman to join the Department of Sociology faculty since its founding 128 years prior.

Nelson was recruited to Columbia from Yale in 2009 as an Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies. She was the first African American to be tenured in the Department of Sociology at this institution. At Columbia, she directed the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, was the founding co-director of the Columbia University Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Council,[5] and was Dean of Social Science[6] for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.[7] As Dean, Nelson led the first strategic planning process for the social sciences at Columbia University,[8] successfully restructured the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and helped to establish several initiatives, including the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program,[9] the Eric J. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights,[10] the June Jordan Fellowship Program,[11] and the Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies.[12] She left the Columbia University faculty in June 2019 to assume the Linder chair at the Institute for Advanced Study.

In February 2017, the Social Science Research Council's Board of Directors announced its selection of Nelson as the 94-year old organization's fourteenth President and CEO, succeeding Ira Katznelson.[13] She is the first African American and first person of color to lead the Social Science Research Council. Nelson's tenure as SSRC president has been hailed as "transformative," particularly in the areas of intellectual innovation and collaboration.[14]

Her appointment as the Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study began on July 1, 2019.[15]

Nelson serves on the boards of directors of the Data and Society Research Institute,[16] The Teagle Foundation, the Center for Research Libraries, and The Brotherhood Sister Sol. She is also a trustee of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation. Nelson is a member of the Board for African-American Affairs at Monticello. In 2019, she was appointed to the advisory board of the Obama Presidency Oral History Project. Past chair of the American Sociological Association's Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section, Nelson is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Sociological Research Association and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. She has been a member of the World Economic Forum Network on AI, the Internet of Things and the Future of Trust and the Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society. Nelson has served on the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Board of Governors for the Society of Fellows at Columbia.[17] From 2014 to 2017, she was Academic Curator for the YWCA of New York City and was also a member of its Program Committee.

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 and Public Culture. Nelson served on the jury for the inaugural Aspen Words Literary Prize and is a juror for the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program.


Nelson writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine and inequality.[18][19] Named one of "13 Notable Blacks In Technology" by Black Voices,[20] she established the Afrofuturism on-line community in 1998 and edited an eponymous special issue of the journal Social Text in 2002.[21] 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."[22]

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.[23][24]

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 was recognized with several awards, and inspired an October 2016 special issue of the American Journal of Public Health on the Black Panther Party's health legacy, which Nelson co-curated.

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." Writer Isabel Wilkerson hailed the book as the work of "one of this generation's most gifted scholars."The Social Life of DNA was named a finalist for the 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction and a Favorite Book of 2016 by The Wall Street Journal. The book was published in an Arabic translation in 2017.

Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe,[25] The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education,[26] among other publications.

Awards and honorsEdit

Nelson has received several awards over the course of her career:

Personal lifeEdit

She was born in Bethesda, Maryland in 1968, the daughter of Robert Nelson, a career member of the U.S. Navy and retired Master Chief Petty Officer, and Delores Nelson, a cryptographer and systems analyst for the U.S. Army and Department of Defense. The eldest of four siblings, she was raised in San Diego, California. Nelson has one sister, Andrea, and two brothers, Robert and Anthony. She attended the University of San Diego High School, a private co-educational college preparatory school.

She was romantically linked to legal scholar Randall Kennedy.[31] She is married to Garraud Etienne, a non-profit executive.


  • 2001. Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. New York University Press, ed. with Thuy Linh Tu ISBN 0-8147-3604-1.
  • 2002. Afrofuturism: A Special Issue of Social Text. Duke University Press, ISBN 0-8223-6545-6.
  • 2011. Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0-8166-7648-8.
  • 2012. Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. Rutgers University Press, ed. with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee, ISBN 0-8135-5255-9.
  • 2016. The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-3301-4.


  1. ^ Jasen, Georgette. "Faculty of Arts and Sciences Names New Divisional Deans for Social Sciences and Humanities" Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine, Columbia News, June 24, 2014.
  2. ^ Smallwood, Scott and Flores, Christopher. "Yale Seeks 'Next Generation' of Stars in Black Studies", Chronicle of Higher Education, February 22, 2002.
  3. ^ Lee, Brian. "Prof Cornel West heads south to Princeton". Archived 2013-02-10 at Yale Daily News, April 15, 2002.
  4. ^ "Junior Faculty Win Awards In Support of Their Research" Archived 2010-07-10 at the Wayback Machine, Yale University Office of Public Affairs, November 7, 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, May 22, 2014.
  7. ^ Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.
  8. ^ "The Social Science Initiative", Columbia University Faculty of Arts and Sciences,
  9. ^ "The Atlantic Philanthropies Establishes New Fellowship Program at Columbia to Dismantle Anti-Black Racism", Columbia University Office of Public Affairs, October 24, 2016.
  10. ^ The Eric J. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights.
  11. ^ "The June Jordan Fellowship", Center for Justice at Columbia University.
  12. ^ "Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies", Columbia University.
  13. ^ "Social Science Research Council Names Alondra Nelson as Next President", Social Science Research Council, February 7, 2017.
  14. ^ "Nelson Announces Plans to Step Down as SSRC President in Early Fall 2021", Social Science Research Council, April 16, 2019.
  15. ^ "Sociologist Alondra Nelson Joins Faculty of the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study", IAS, April 16, 2019.
  16. ^ Data and Society Research Institute
  17. ^ Board of Governors for the Society of Fellows at Columbia
  18. ^ Alondra Nelson, Columbia University
  19. ^ "Scholars Question the Image of the Internet as a Race-Free Utopia", Chronicle of Higher Education, September 28, 2001.
  20. ^ "13 Notable Blacks In Technology", Black Voices
  21. ^ John Pfeiffer, Review of Alondra Nelson, guest ed. Social Text 71: Afrofuturism. Utopian Studies 14:1 (2003): 240-43.
  22. ^ Nelson, Alondra (2002). "Introduction: Future Texts". Social Text. 20 (2): 1–15. doi:10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-1.
  23. ^ Estrada,Sheryl. "What Does it Mean to be Hi-Tech Anyway?", Black Issues Book Review, 1 January 2002.
  24. ^ [1] Archived 2007-08-19 at the Wayback Machine Reviews of Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies.
  25. ^ "Beyond Roots", The Boston Globe, February 10, 2006.
  26. ^ "Henry Louis Gates's Extended Family", The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 12, 2010; "The Social Life of DNA", The Chronicle of Higher Education, Big Ideas for the Next Decade, August 29, 2010.
  27. ^ "Alondra Nelson receives Just Wellness Award". Archived from the original on 2014-09-14. Retrieved 2014-09-13.
  28. ^ "Top 35 Women in Higher Education", Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, March 2020.
  29. ^ "New Members, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2020"
  30. ^ "Elected Members, American Philosophical Society, 2020"
  31. ^ Randall Kennedy, The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

External linksEdit