I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University specializing in the interdisciplinary study of science, medicine, and biotechnology, race-ethnicity and gender, health and biopolitics. I am also a Faculty Associate in the Program on History of Science, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Program on Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Program in Global Health and Health Policy, and the Department of Sociology at Princeton, as well as a Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Following the publication of my first book, People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press 2013), I am currently working on two new books: Racing Technology examines the relationship between machine bias and systemic racism. I am interested in how racial logics shape technological design and how devices and algorithms impact forms of inequality predicated on race, with an eye towards the development of more socially-conscious design practices. The Emperor’s New Genes investigates the social, political, and economic underpinnings of human population genomics. I am analyzing how the field reflects, reinforces and, at times, challenges racial and caste classifications, with a particular focus on genomic sovereignty as a new terrain of struggle over the meaning and value of human differences. (click here for longer descriptions)
Taken together, this body of work addresses debates about how science and technology shape the social world and how people can, should, and do engage technoscience, grappling all the while with the fact that what may bring health and longevity to some may threaten the dignity and rights of others.
I arrived here by way of a winding road that has snaked through South Central Los Angeles; Conway, South Carolina; Majuro, South Pacific, and Swaziland, Southern Africa. I come from many Souths, and I tend to bring this perspective, of looking at the world from its underbelly, to my analysis.
To start at the proverbial beginning, my interest in the relationship between science, technology, medicine, and society can be traced to this clinic in Wai (pronounced “Why”), India, where I was born in a decidedly make-do setting to a Persian-Indian mother and African-American father. My folks’ stories of the one-size-fits-all stirrups, the stainless steel bed around which resident chickens balked, and the nurses who waited on my mom day and night—ignited my imagination about the places where cold tools and warm humans meet.
Whether we dub it ‘science and society’, ‘medicine and culture’, ‘technology and values’, their stories fuel my preoccupation with the relationship between what are commonly thought of as separate spheres of human experience. My work as a researcher and teacher continues to take shape within the borderlands between mainstream institutions and the messiness of everyday life.
The way we classify and are classified as different human ‘kinds’, is another enduring interest that grows out of the social boundary crossing of the folks pictured above. This family was my first classroom, where I became a student of race-ethnicity, gender, class, citizenship, and diaspora.
And when it all boils down, the tension between innovation and equity is mainly what keeps me up at night.
How do we develop techniques to better medical treatment, for example, without at the same time increasing the gap between the haves and have-nots? How do we advance life sciences without reinforcing popular conceptions of race … as biological? Or gender… as destiny? Is there a way to seek novel cures without stigmatizing people with disabilities?
After all, as we push the boundaries of biology with cutting-edge science, we’re also reinforcing (and sometimes redrawing) social fault lines in often-unexpected ways.
In case you made your way here looking for a more formal overview of my educational history, the following represents some highlights:
- International Baccalaureate, Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa (1996)
- BA in Sociology and Anthropology, Spelman College (2001)
- MA and PhD in Sociology, University of California, Berkeley (2008)
- Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute for Society and Genetics, University of California, Los Angeles (2010)