Humanities Institute

Alondra Nelson, "The Social Life of DNA"

Wed, October 11, 2017 | POB 2.302 (Avaya Auditorium), 201 East 24th Street, Austin, TX 78712

7:00 PM - 8:45 PM

Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University
Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University

DNA is considered a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life is revelatory. This billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television shows, websites, and a booming heritage tourism circuit. African Americans' interest in genetic ancestry testing has been especially robust.  DNA-based techniques are being used to grapple with the unfinished business of slavery: to foster reconciliation, to establish ties with ancestral homelands, to rethink citizenship, and to make legal claims for slavery reparations. As Nelson will describe, for good and for naught, the double helix has wound its way into the heart of some of the most urgent contemporary social issues around racial inequality.

Alondra Nelson is professor of sociology and the inaugural Dean of Social Science at Columbia University. On September 1, 2017, she will become President of the Social Science Research Council, an independent nonprofit that for more than nine decades has been dedicated to advancing research for the public good. She is the author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome and Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, which was recognized with multiple scholarly awards and has been translated into French. Chair-elect of the Science, Knowledge and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association, her books also include Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and Historyand Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. In 2002, she edited “Afrofuturism,” an influential special issue of Social Text.

Dr. Nelson has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality and about the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligencebig data, and human gene-editing. Alondra serves on the board of directors of the Data & Society Research Institute. She sits on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science,Social Text, and Public Culture. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Science, and on National Public Radio, among other venues. 

Please join the Humanities Institute and the Department of Sociology for this lecture on October 11, 2017 at 7pm in the Avaya Auditorium.

Sponsored by: The Humanities Institute through the Holloway Centennial Lectureship

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