Reconciliation Projects: Ancestry and DNA in Black Political Culture

MAR 28, 2016 | 6:30 PM

Alondra Nelson and Jacqueline Brown



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


9100: Skylight Room


March 28, 2016: 6:30 PM




Intellectual Publics


Please join Intellectual Publics for Reconciliation Projects: Ancestry and DNA in Black Political Culture, an evening event which features Alondra Nelson (Columbia University), author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome (2016) in conversation with Jacqueline N. Brown (Hunter College) on March 28, 2016 at The Graduate Center. 

"Genealogy is a pursuit that dates back to biblical time. But since the turn of the twenty-first century, especially after the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2002, there has been a surge of interest. Nelson's work explores how African American communities are engaging with these new scientific insights, exploring the personal, cultural, and political impact that genetic data is having on issues of race in America. "The double helix," she explains, "now lies at the center of some of the most significant issues of our time.”

In addition to recreational and personal uses of genealogy mapping in families, genetic ancestry testing is being employed for legal and political uses that infer ties with African ancestral homelands, transform citizenship, recast history, and to make the case for reparations. From individual “root seekers” to “DNA Diaspora," Nelson explores the global emergence of "reconciliation projects" that are incorporating genetic analysis."
Alondra Nelson is Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. An interdisciplinary social scientist, she writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and inequality. She is the author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, and of Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. Chair-elect of the Science, Knowledge and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association, she is also coeditor of Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. In 2002, she edited “Afrofuturism,” an influential special issue of Social Text.
The recipient of Mellon, Woodrow Wilson, and Ford fellowships, Professor Nelson has been a visiting fellow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the BIOS Center at the London School of Economics. She is a member of the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society, sits on the editorial board of Social Studies of Science, Social Text, and Public Culture, and serves on the board of advisors of the Data & Society Research Institute. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Science, Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio, among other venues.  Nelson received her B.A. in sociocultural anthropology with high distinction, from the University of California at San Diego, where she graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from New York University.
Jacqueline Nassy Brown is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY.  Her research interests center on intersections of place, race and nation. Her work treats place and other geographical phenomena as lenses through which to understand contemporary formations of race and nation. She also contributes to diaspora theory, feminist geography, and the anthropology of Black Europe.
Her scholarship to date has been based on ethnographic research in Liverpool, England. Her book, Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail: Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool (Princeton, 2005) showed the inextricable relationship between racial identity, politics and subjectivity in Liverpool on the one hand, and the politics of place in Britain writ large on the other hand. It also argues for treating the local and the global not merely as spatial categories but as profoundly racialized ones, while also offering a feminist critique of the Black Atlantic paradigm. Her work has appeared in Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, and Social Text.