Alondra Nelson is Professor and Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). Prior to her appointment at IAS, she was a professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science and director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Nelson began her academic career on the faculty of Yale University and there was recognized with several honors, including the Poorvu Prize for Interdisciplinary Teaching Excellence. She is past president of the Social Science Research Council.
An award-winning sociologist, Nelson has published widely-acclaimed books and articles exploring science, technology, medicine, and social inequality. Her recent publications include a symposium in the British Journal of Sociology on the history of slavery, genetic genealogy, and the "GU272," based on her 2017 BJS Lecture, and articles with collaborators in the journals PLOS: Computational Biology and Genetics in Medicine. She is currently at work on a book about science politics in the Obama administration.
Nelson is the author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, which was named a finalist for the 2017 Hurston-Wright Foundation Award for Nonfiction and a Wall Street Journal favorite book of 2016. The Social Life of DNA is now available in an Arabic translation. Her books also include Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, which was recognized with five awards, including the Mirra Komarovsky Award, as well as Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee) and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu). In 2002, Nelson edited “Afrofuturism,” an influential special issue of Social Text, drawing together contributions from scholars and artists who were members of a synonymous online community she established in 1998.
Nelson's research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. She has held visiting professorships and fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, the Bavarian American Academy, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Nelson has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality and about the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, and human gene-editing. She serves on the board of directors of the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Research Libraries, as well as the board for African-American Programs at Monticello. She also is a member of the Board of Directors of the Brotherhood Sister Sol, a Harlem-based youth development organization. Until 2017, she was the Academic Curator for the YWCA of the City of New York and served on the organization's program committee.
A member of the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science and Public Culture, her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Science, Le Nouvel Observateur, the Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio, the PBS NewsHour and MSNBC, among other venues.
Nelson was recently elected a fellow of the American Academy of Political & Social Science and of The Hastings Center. She is an elected member of the Sociological Research Association and chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology. She was formerly a member of the World Economic Forum Network on A.I., the Internet of Things, and Trust; of the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society; and of the Board of Governors of the Atlantic Philanthropies Fellowship for Racial Equity. Nelson was previously elected to both the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Council of the Society for Social Studies of Science.
Raised in Southern California, Nelson is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at San Diego. She earned her PhD from New York University in 2003. She lives in New York City.