Annual Two Icons Lecture

Thursday, October 15, 2015
5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Welles-Brown Room


Co-hosted with the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies

This year we have the pleasure of welcoming Alondra Nelson to speak at our annual Two Icons Lecture. Join us for delicious food and what promises to be a fantastic talk.

Nelson is Dean of Social Science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Columbia and professor of sociology and gender studies. She is the first African American to be tenured in the Department of Sociology at this university. She is former Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

Nelson is a member of the Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society and advises the Data and Society Research Institute. She also serves on the Social Media Task Force Committee of the American Sociological Association, the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society, and the Board of Governors for the Society of Fellows at Columbia.

Nelson has been a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at the London School of Economics, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, and the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University. She serves on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science and Social Text.

Nelson's writing deals with the intersection of technology, culture, and new media, and how these lenses can be used to address the continuing impacts of African Diaspora. She is among a small group of critical theorists studying and discussing Afrofuturism, an emerging theoretical and cultural aesthetic. Particularly, her essay Future Texts lends insight to the inequitable access to technologies between whites and blacks. Alondra Nelson explained Afrofuturism as a way of looking at the subject position of black people which covers themes of alienation and aspirations for a utopic future. The idea of 'alien' or 'other' is a theme often explored. Additionally, Nelson notes that discussions around race, access, and technology often bolster uncritical claims about a so-called “digital divide”. The digital divide overemphasizes the association of racial and economic inequality with limited access to technology. She writes, "Blackness gets constructed as always oppositional to technologically driven chronicles of progress." Nelson explores the way artists and writers have adopted older forms of technology and retrofitted them to promote a black aesthetic.

She is also co-editor, with Thuy Linh Tu, of Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life, one of the first scholarly works to examine the racial politics of contemporary technoculture. Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe,The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.