I am an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University where I study the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology, race-ethnicity and health, knowledge and power. I am also a Faculty Associate in the Program on History of Science; Center for Health and Wellbeing; Program on Gender and Sexuality Studies; Program in Global Health and Health Policy, and the Department of Sociology at Princeton.
My first book, People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press 2013), investigates the social dimensions of stem cell science with a particular focus on the passage and implementation of a “right to research” codified in California. I am currently working on three new books: Race After Technology (Polity, forthcoming) examines the relationship between machine bias and systemic racism by analyzing cases of “discriminatory design” and offering tools for a more socially-conscious approach to tech development. Captivating Technology: Reimagining Race, Resistance, and the Carceral Imagination (Duke University Press, forthcoming) is an edited volume that brings together an incredible set of scholars who work at the nexus of critical race studies and science and technology studies to explore the interplay between innovation and containment across a wide array of social arenas. Finally, The Emperor’s New Genes is a multi-sited investigation of how human population genomics reflects, reinforces, and sometimes challenges sociopolitical distinctions such as race, caste, and citizenship, with a particular focus on initiatives in the US, South Africa, and India.
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 Bahá’í family to a Persian-Indian mother and African-American father. Their stories of the one-size-fits-all stirrups, stainless steel bed around which resident-chickens balked, and 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’, the relationship between what are commonly thought of as separate spheres of human experience fuel many of my current preoccupations. My work as a researcher and teacher continues to take shape in the borderlands of 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 — an ongoing touchstone for questioning what ‘comes naturally.’ They also helped me to see that innovation isn’t limited to shiny new gadgets and experimentation doesn’t just happen in sterile laboratories; people experiment and innovate in their everyday lives all the time, challenging ‘how things have always been done’, and producing knowledge and tools for living a good life that are valuable well beyond the patent office.
So when it all boils down, the tension between innovation and equity is mainly what keeps me up at night.
How do we develop approaches to health and well-being that don’t simply substitute technological fixes for wider social change? Fixes that do more to widen the gross inequities that already stratify life chances? How do we advance life sciences without reinforcing popular conceptions of race … as biological? Gender… as destiny? Or disability… as tragic? After all, as we push the boundaries of the ‘human’ with science and technology, we are 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 academic 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)
- Faculty Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School Science, Technology, and Society Program (2012-13)
- Member at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ (2016-17)