Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science
Widely known for her research at the intersection of science, politics, and social inequality, Alondra Nelson holds the Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science. Past president of the Social Science Research Council, she was professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she also served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science. As Dean, she led the first strategic planning process for the social sciences at Columbia, working with faculty to set long-term research priorities. Nelson began her academic career on the faculty of Yale University, where she received the Poorvu Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching Excellence.
Nelson’s work offers a critical and innovative approach to the social sciences in fruitful dialogue with many disciplines. Her major research contributions are situated at the intersection of racial formation and social citizenship, on the one hand, and emerging scientific and technological phenomena, on the other. She connects these dimensions in award-winning and acclaimed books, including The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (2016); Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (2011); Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race and History (2012; with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee); and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life (2001; with Thuy Linh Tu). Her recent publications also include a symposium in the British Journal of Sociology on the history of slavery, genetic genealogy, and the #GU272, and articles with collaborators in the journals PLOS: Computational Biology, Genetics in Medicine, and The Du Bois Review. She is currently completing a book on science and technology policy in the Obama administration.
Nelson’s research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. She has been a visiting Fellow of 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.
Past Chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology, Nelson is 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, and on National Public Radio, The New Yorker Radio Hour, and PBS NewsHour, among other venues.
Nelson is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the American Philosophical Society and the Sociological Research Association. She is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Hastings Center. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Data and Society Research Institute, the Teagle Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation, as well as the board for African American programs at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Nelson is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a Harlem-based youth development organization.
Raised in Southern California, Nelson received her BA from the University of California, San Diego, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her PhD from New York University in 2003.