Alondra Nelson will discuss her book The Social Life of DNA on how claims about ancestry are marshalled together with genetic analysis in a range of social ventures.
The use of genetic ancestry testing in the United States has grown exponentially since its emergence about fifteen years ago. In this same period, U.S. colleges and universities have increasingly uncovered and confronted their ties to the history of racial slavery. Although genetic ancestry tests are principally sought to provide genealogical information, these data have been marshalled into a wider range of social ventures, including the politics of remembrance and reconciliation. In this presentation, Alondra Nelson examines the recent use of genetic ancestry testing by the descendants of nearly three hundred enslaved men and women owned by Georgetown University, whom the institution’s Jesuit stewards sold to Southern plantations in 1838 in order to secure its solvency. The case of the GU 272 will be explored as a “reconciliation project”—a social endeavour in which DNA analysis is put to the use of repairing historic injury.
Alondra Nelson (@alondra) 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. A scholar of science, medicine, and social inequality, her recent books include 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. She is Chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology and is an elected member of the Sociological Research Associations. Nelson received her BA from the University of California at San Diego, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her PhD from New York University in 2003.
Nigel Dodd is a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and Editor-in-Chief of the British Journal of Sociology.
This event is The British Journal of Sociology Annual Lecture.
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A podcast of this event is available to download from The Social Life of DNA: racial reconciliation and institutional morality.
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The Social Life of DNA: racial reconciliation and institutional morality (pdf)