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- ‘A Black Mass’ as Black Gothic: Myth and Biomedicine in African American Cultural Nationalism(Rutgers University Press, 2006)Alondra NelsonDuring the 1960s and 1970s, a cadre of poets, playwrights, visual artists, musicians, and other visionaries came together to create a renaissance in African American literature and art. This charged chapter in the history of African American culture-which came to be known as the Black Arts Movement-has remained largely neglected by subsequent generations of critics. New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement includes essays that reexamine well-known figures such as Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Betye Saar, Jeff Donaldson, and Haki Madhubuti. In addition, the anthology expands the scope of the movement by offering essays that explore the racial and sexual politics of the era, links with other period cultural movements, the arts in prison, the role of Black colleges and universities, gender politics and the rise of feminism, color fetishism, photography, music, and more. An invigorating look at a movement that has long begged for reexamination, this collection lucidly interprets the complex debates that surround this tumultuous era and demonstrates that the celebration of this movement need not be separated from its critique.
- Afrofuturism(Duke University Press, 2002)Alondra NelsonChallenging mainstream technocultural assumptions of a raceless future, Afrofuturism explores culturally distinct approaches to technology. This special issue addresses the intersection between African diasporic culture and technology through literature, poetry, science fiction and speculative fiction, music, visual art, and the Internet and maintains that racial identity fundamentally influences technocultural practices. The collection includes a reflection on the ideologies of race created by cultural critics in their analyses of change wrought by the information age; an interview with Nalo Hopkinson, the award-winning novelist and author of speculative fiction novels Midnight Robber and Brown Girl in the Ring, who fuses futuristic thinking with Caribbean traditions; an essay on how contemporary R&B music presents African American reflections on the technologies of everyday life; and an article examining early interventions by the black community to carve out a distinct niche in cyberspace.
- AI safety on whose terms?(Science: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2023-07-14)
;Lazar, SethAlondra NelsonRapid, widespread adoption of the latest large language models has sparked both excitement and concern about advanced artificial intelligence (AI). In response, many are looking to the field of AI safety for answers. Major AI companies are purportedly investing heavily in this young research program, even as they cut “trust and safety” teams addressing harms from current systems. Governments are taking notice too. The United Kingdom just invested £100 million in a new “Foundation Model Taskforce” and plans an AI safety summit this year. And yet, as research priorities are being set, it is already clear that the prevailing technical agenda for AI safety is inadequate to address critical questions. Only a sociotechnical approach can truly limit current and potential dangers of advanced AI. 8 2
- Aliens Who Are Of Course Ourselves(College Art Association, 2001)Alondra NelsonThe cultural theorist and novelist Albert Murray once remarked that the mandate of the black intellectual was to provide “technology” to the black community. By technology, Murray didn't mean mechanics, new media, or the Internet. Rather, he defined it as those novel analytic approaches he believed necessary to understanding black life “on a higher level of abstraction.” For Murray, this process was one of distillation and complication. He advocated theories of African American existence that, like a blueprint, would be sufficiently robust to reveal the larger patterns of society and do justice to its intricacies and complexities. By Murray's definition, the artist Laylah Ali is a technologist of the highest order. In spite of their striking clarity, her gouache images reflect the contradictions of the human condition. Ali's work explores the tragic lives of the Greenheads, her hypercephalic, thin-limbed, brown-skinned creations. Using a limited palette, she composes provocative visual fields noticeably lacking in scenery, save the humanoid figures that inhabit them. A master at sleight of hand, she uses bright comic-strip colors in a way that recalls the Sunday funnies; but these images have more in common with sardonic political cartoons, for the figures she depicts inflict all manner of insult and injury on one other. Although Ali provides no script for her images, their despair and anger is unmistakable. But there is no violent haste in her brush stroke; the images are controlled—eerily exact. As befits the work of a technician, these tortured lives are rendered with the sharpest precision.
- Bio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry(Sage Publications, 2008)Alondra NelsonThis paper considers the extent to which the geneticization of 'race' and ethnicity is the prevailing outcome of genetic testing for genealogical purposes. The decoding of the human genome precipitated a change of paradigms in genetics research, from an emphasis on genetic similarity to a focus on molecular-level differences among individuals and groups. This shift from lumping to splitting spurred ongoing disagreements among scholars about the significance of 'race' and ethnicity in the genetics era. I characterize these divergent perspectives as 'pragmatism' and 'naturalism'. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, I argue that neither position fully accounts for how understandings of 'race' and ethnicity are being transformed with genetic genealogy testing. While there is some acquiescence to genetic thinking about ancestry, and by implication, 'race', among African-American and black British consumers of genetic genealogy testing, test-takers also adjudicate between sources of genealogical information and from these construct meaningful biographical narratives. Consumers engage in highly situated 'objective' and 'affiliative' self-fashioning, interpreting genetic test results in the context of their 'genealogical aspirations'. I conclude that issues of site, scale, and subjectification must be attended to if scholars are to understand whether and to what extent social identities are being transformed by recent developments in genetic science.
- Biomedicalizing Genetic Health, Diseases and Identities(Routlege, 2009)
;Clarke, Adele E. ;Shim, Janet ;Shostak, SaraAlondra NelsonAs the focus of the natural sciences shifted from cellular to molecular levels over the last half of the twentieth century, the question ‘What is life?’ has increasingly been raised. Rose (2007: 6–7) recently posited a parallel epistemic shift in biomedicine from the clinical gaze to the molecular gaze such that ‘we are inhabiting an emergent form of life’. Through biomedicine, molecularisation is transforming what Foucault called ‘the conditions of possibility’ for how life can and should be lived. The emergent biomedical molecular gaze offers possibilities of changing bios – ‘life itself’ – especially, but not only, through genetics and genomics. These new biomedical practices are increasingly transforming people’s bodies, identities and lives. 16 14
- Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination(University of Minnesota Press, 2011)Alondra NelsonBetween its founding in 1966 and its formal end in 1980, the Black Panther Party blazed a distinctive trail in American political culture. The Black Panthers are most often remembered for their revolutionary rhetoric and militant action. Here Alondra Nelson deftly recovers an indispensable but lesser-known aspect of the organization's broader struggle for social justice: health care. The Black Panther Party's health activism-its network of free health clinics, its campaign to raise awareness about genetic disease, and its challenges to medical discrimination-was an expression of its founding political philosophy and also a recognition that poor blacks were both underserved by mainstream medicine and overexposed to its harms. Drawing on extensive historical research as well as interviews with former members of the Black Panther Party, Nelson argues that the Party's focus on health care was both practical and ideological. Building on a long tradition of medical self-sufficiency among African Americans, the Panthers' People's Free Medical Clinics administered basic preventive care, tested for lead poisoning and hypertension, and helped with housing, employment, and social services. In 1971, the party launched a campaign to address sickle-cell anemia. In addition to establishing screening programs and educational outreach efforts, it exposed the racial biases of the medical system that had largely ignored sickle-cell anemia, a disease that predominantly affected people of African descent. The Black Panther Party's understanding of health as a basic human right and its engagement with the social implications of genetics anticipated current debates about the politics of health and race. That legacy-and that struggle-continues today in the commitment of health activists and the fight for universal health care.
- Communities on the Verge: Intersections and Disjunctures in the New Information Order(Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1997)
;Wexler, Debra ;Tu, Thuy Lin ;Alondra NelsonHeadlam, AliciaThis article examines the relationship of information technology to communities of color. In recent decades, American microelectronics firms have shifted production facilities to offshore sites while prototypic and short-term projects, research, and development have remained in places such as Silicon Valley. Assembly work that fuels the industry there, done mostly by immigrant women, closely resembles the “low tech” labor of their overseas counterparts. Despite these attachments by people of color at the level of labor and high-tech production, the same people are largely isolated from the technology on the levels of use, consumption, and content development. Some attempts have been made by marginalized communities, however, to “stake a claim in cyberspace.” Examining what anthropologist David Hess termed the social and cultural “reconstruction of technology,” we argue that attempts to claim information technologies happen on two levels: the “virtual” and the “real.” We explore questions of how community is conjured or imagined by people of color using icons and language and how images and language mark insiders and outsiders, we examine the inconsistencies in “global village” metaphors and whether communities of color betray similar inconsistencies, and we conclude that we are both critical of and optimistic about the communicative possibilities of information technology. 4 9
- Computational social science: Obstacles and opportunitites(Science - American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2020)
;Lazer, David ;Pentland, Alex ;Watts, Duncan J. ;Aral, Sinan ;Athey, Susan ;Contractor, Noshir ;Freelon, Deen ;Gonzalez-Bailon, Sandra ;King, Gary ;Margetts, Helen ;Alondra Nelson ;Salganik, Matthew J. ;Strohmaier, Markus ;Vespignani, AlessandroWagner, ClaudiaData Sharing, research ethics, and the incentives must improve. The field of computational social science (CSS) has exploded in prominence over the past decade, with thousands of papers published using observational data, experimental designs, and large-scale simulations that were once unfeasible or unavailable to researchers. These studies have greatly improved our understanding of important phenomena, ranging from social inequality to the spread of infectious diseases. The institutions supporting CSS in the academy have also grown substantially, as evidenced by the proliferation of conferences, workshops, and summer schools across the globe, across disciplines, and across sources of data. But the field has also fallen short in important ways. Many institutional structures around the field—including research ethics, pedagogy, and data infrastructure—are still nascent. We suggest opportunities to address these issues, especially in improving the alignment between the organization of the 20th-century university and the intellectual requirements of the field. 10 9
- Decentralization and Political Institutions(2004)
;Enikolopov, Rubin ;Zhuravskaya, EkaterinaMaskin, Eric S.Does fiscal decentralization lead to more efficient governance, better public goods, and higher economic growth? This paper tests Riker's [Riker, W. (1964) “Federalism: Origins, Operation, Significance,” Little, Brown and Co, Boston, MA.] theory that the results of fiscal decentralization depend on the level of countries' political centralization. We analyze cross-section and panel data from up to 75 developing and transition countries for 25 years. Two of Riker's predictions about the role of political institutions in disciplining fiscally-autonomous local politicians are confirmed by the data. 1) Strength of national political parties significantly improves outcomes of fiscal decentralization such as economic growth, quality of government, and public goods provision. 2) In contrast, administrative subordination (i.e., appointing local politicians rather than electing them) does not improve the results of fiscal decentralization. 178 343
- Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History(Rutgers University Press, 2012)
;Alondra Nelson ;Wailoo, KeithLee, CatherineOur genetic markers have come to be regarded as portals to the past. Analysis of these markers is increasingly used to tell the story of human migration; to investigate and judge issues of social membership and kinship; to rewrite history and collective memory; to right past wrongs and to arbitrate legal claims and human rights controversies; and to open new thinking about health and well-being. At the same time, in many societies genetic evidence is being called upon to perform a kind of racially charged cultural work: to repair the racial past and to transform scholarly and popular opinion about the "nature" of identity in the present. "Genetics and the Unsettled Past" considers the alignment of genetic science with commercial genealogy, with legal and forensic developments, and with pharmaceutical innovation to examine how these trends lend renewed authority to biological understandings of race and history. This unique collection brings together scholars from a wide range of disciplines-biology, history, cultural studies, law, medicine, anthropology, ethnic studies, sociology-to explore the emerging and often contested connections among race, DNA, and history. Written for a general audience, the book's essays touch upon a variety of topics, including the rise and implications of DNA in genealogy, law, and other fields; the cultural and political uses and misuses of genetic information; the way in which DNA testing is reshaping understandings of group identity for French Canadians, Native Americans, South Africans, and many others within and across cultural and national boundaries; and the sweeping implications of genetics for society today. 18 3
- "Genuine Struggle and Care": An Interview with Cleo Silvers(American Journal of Public Health, 2016)Alondra NelsonPhiladelphia native Cleo Silvers moved to New York City to take up a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) post in the mid-1960s. In the course of her VISTA service, she was awakened to the extreme deprivation faced by many Blacks and Latinos in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York. This experience also occasioned a political awakening in Silvers, who sought to systematically understand the social and economic inequality she witnessed and how to upend it. Following her VISTA service, she worked as a community mental health worker at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. She also joined the Black Panther Party in Harlem, New York. As a Panther, her work included conducting neighborhood health surveys and door-to-door testing for sickle cell anemia and lead poisoning and being a patient advocate in its clinic. Silvers later became a member of the Young Lords Party and played a role in its takeover of Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. In more recent years, Silvers served as executive director of For a Better Bronx, a community-based social and environmental justice organization. She recently retired from a position as a community outreach director at a leading New York City medical center. Silvers speaks here with Alondra Nelson, PhD, a sociologist and historian who has documented the Black Panther Party’s health activism, about the formative experiences that led her into five decades of health advocacy—an activism notable for its insistence on the inextricable links between health and socioeconomic well-being.
- Jean-Jacques Laffont: A Look Back(2004)Maskin, Eric S.Jean-Jacques Laffont, economist extraordinaire and visionary founder of the Institut d'Économie Industrielle ( IDEI ) in Toulouse, died at his home in Colomiers on May 1 after a valiant battle against cancer. He was fifty-seven years old.
- Laws for Sale: Evidence from Russia(2004)
;Yakovlev, Evgeny ;Slinko, Irina ;Zhuravskaya, EkaterinaMaskin, Eric S.How does regulatory capture affect growth? We construct measures of the political power of firms and regional regulatory capture using microlevel data on the preferential treatment of firms through regional laws and regulations in Russia during the period 1992-2000. Using these measures, we find that: (1) politically powerful firms perform better on average; (2) a high level of regulatory capture hurts the performance of firms that have no political connections and boosts the performance of politically connected firms; (3) capture adversely affects small-business growth and the tax capacity of the state; and (4) there is no evidence that capture affects aggregate growth. 196 151
- On Indescribable Contingencies and Incomplete Contracts(2001)Maskin, Eric S.I examine the theoretical foundations underlying the incomplete contracts literature. A common justification for the assumption that contracts are not fully contingent on the state of nature is to point out that some aspects of the state may be unforeseen or indescribable to the contracting partners at the time the contract is written. I argue, however, that as long as risk-averse parties can foresee the probabilities of their possible payoffs, then the fact that they cannot describe the possible physical states does not matter; even with renegotiation, the parties can attain the same welfare as when full description is possible.
- On the Robustness of Majority Rule(2003)
;Maskin, Eric S.Dasgupta, ParthaWe show that simple majority rule satisfies four standard< and attractive properties—the Pareto property, anonymity, neutrality, and (generic) transitivity—on a bigger class of preference domains than (essentially) any other voting rule. Hence, in this sense, it is the most robust voting rule. If we replace neutrality in the above list of properties with the weaker property, independence of irrelevant alternatives, then the corresponding robustness conclusion holds for unanimity rule (rule by consensus). 191 179
- Our Ancestors are Angels, Too(Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018)Alondra NelsonThis volume documents a groundbreaking convening on January 28, 2017 in The Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, inspired by the exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mastry on view at The Met Breuer October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017. During the daylong event twenty noted thought leaders and creative practitioners considered the role of creativity, hard work, social justice, and imagination in art history, performance, science, and other disciplines inspired by visual artist Kerry James Marshall’s practice and work. The event was a mix of rich extended conversations and exciting nine-minute performances and presentations.