The New Research Compact: Social Science Partnerships for the Common Good

Lecture | November 15 | 10 a.m.-12 p.m. | 820 Barrows Hall

 Alondra Nelson, President, Social Science Research Council

 Social Science Matrix

Please join us on Thursday, November 15 from 10am-noon for the Social Science Matrix Distinguished Lecture, which will be delivered by Alondra Nelson, president of the Social Science Research Council and professor of sociology at Columbia University.


For decades, the social sciences have generated knowledge vital to guiding public policy, informing business, and understanding and improving the human condition. But today, the social sciences face serious threats. From dwindling federal funding to public mistrust in institutions to widespread skepticism about data, the infrastructure supporting the social sciences is shifting in ways that threaten to undercut research and knowledge production. How can we secure social knowledge for future generations?

We have identified both long-term developments and present threats that have created challenges for the social sciences, but also created unique opportunities. Our core finding focuses on the urgent need for new partnerships and collaborations among several key players: the federal government, academic institutions, donor organizations, and the private sector. We have issued a call to forge a new research compact to harness the potential of the social sciences for improving human lives. With the right realignments, the security of social knowledge lies within our reach.

About Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council. She is also 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.

An award-winning sociologist, Nelson has published widely acclaimed books and articles exploring the junction of science, technology, medicine, and social inequality. Her recent publications include a symposium in the British Journal of Sociology on the history of slavery, genealogy, and the "GU 272" and articles with collaborators in PLOS: Computational Biology and Genetics in Medicine. She is currently at work on a book about science policy in the Obama administration.

Nelson is 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 Legacy Award for Best 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 and the C. Wright Mills Award (Finalist), 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. Nelson sits on the academic council of the A.I. Now Institute and the steering committee of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. 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, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Science, Le Nouvel Observateur, the Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio, the PBS Newshour, and MSNBC, among other venues.

Nelson is chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology and an elected fellow of the Sociological Research Association. She is a former 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 the Atlantic Philanthropies Fellowship for Racial Equity. Nelson was previously elected to the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Council of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Until 2017, she was the Academic Curator for the YWCA of the City of New York and is currently a director of the Brotherhood Sister Sol, a Harlem-based youth development organization.

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.

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