Ruha Benjamin

Assistant Professor
Department of African American Studies
Faculty Associate
Program in the History of Science, Department of Sociology, Center for Health and Wellbeing, Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Program in Global Health and Health Policy
Ph.D, Sociology
UC Berkeley
office:
003 Stanhope Hall
office phone:
(609) 258-6936
email:
ruha@princeton.edu
twitter:
@ruha9
website:
http://ruhabenjamin.com
Ruha Benjamin

Background

On Sabbatical from the Department of African American Studies for the 2016-2017 Academic Year

Ruha Benjamin specializes in the interdisciplinary study of science, medicine, and biotechnology; race-ethnicity and gender; biopolitics and the sociology of knowledge. She is the author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press 2013), and numerous articles and book chapters that investigate the social dimensions of biotechnology. Ruha is a 2016-17 Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), and is currently working on the following projects:

  • Racing Technology asks, “how do racial logics shape the design of technology and how do contemporary technologies impact social inequality?” This book broadens the notion of systemic inequality to include computer systems, and analyzes a range of phenomena from mundane types of automation that are part of everyday life to forms of artificial intelligence first imagined in science fiction. It highlights the explicit codification of racial difference in particular machines and challenges the implicit assumption that technology is race neutral. Finally, it suggests ways we can design differently and critically engage both overt and subtle forms of discrimination.
  • Fixing the Future: Race, Science, Technology, and the Carceral Imagination asks, “who and what are fixed in place to enable innovation in science and technology? How are such innovations deployed in carceral approaches to governing life well beyond the domain of policing? And how can technoscience be appropriated and reimagined for liberatory ends?” This edited volume brings together scholarship on STS and critical race studies and proposes an expansive understanding of ‘the carceral’ in the context of health and medicine, education and employment, border patrols and virtual realities. A short essay related to this project is published in Engaging Science, Technology, and Human Values.
  • The Emperor’s New Genes asks, ‘how does human population genomics reflect, reinforce, and sometimes challenge socio-political classifications such as race, caste, and citizenship?’ This book reveals how, despite the ostensible globalization of science, different national imaginaries shape the impact and meaning of genomics in distinct ways, and increasingly through the idiom of “sovereignty” in which governments claim custodial status over a population’s DNA samples. Papers related to this multi-sited project are published in Policy & Society; Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science; and Reimagining Biomedicalization, Pharmaceuticals, and Genetics: Old Critiques and New Engagements.
  • Finally, in Black to the Future: An Imagination Incubator, Ruha is experimenting with speculative fiction as a site of sociological knowledge and praxis. This includes courses, workshops, and publications that explore how the arts, activism, and scholarship can be used to construct alternative social realities. A short story sketch related to this project is published in Discover Society. 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 with science and technology.

Ruha received her BA in sociology and anthropology from Spelman College, MA and PhD in sociology from UC Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral fellowships at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and Harvard University’s Science, Technology, and Society Program. She has been awarded fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine among others. She is also an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.  

Courses

AAS 235 / SOC 236

Race is Socially Constructed: Now, What?

The truism that “race is socially constructed” hides more than it reveals. Have Irish Americans always been white? Are people of African descent all black? Is calling Asian Americans a “model minority” a compliment? Does race impact who we date or marry? In this course, students develop a sophisticated conceptual toolkit to make sense of such contentious cases of racial vision and division as the uprising in Ferguson. We learn to connect contemporary events to historical processes, and individual experiences to institutional policies, exercising a sociological imagination with the potential to not only analyze, but transform the status quo.

AAS 301 / SOC 367

Black to the Future: Science, Fiction, and Society

Designer Babies. Ancestry Tests. Organ Regeneration. Biometric Surveillance. These and more comprise our 21st century landscape. This interdisciplinary course examines the values and politics that shape science, medicine, and technology, asking who bears the risk and who reaps the benefit of innovations? Social inequality is legitimized, in part, by myths about human difference. And while course participants grapple with past and present stories that shape science and technology, we also apply a sociological imagination to the future, exploring how contemporary hopes and fears may give rise to “real utopias” that are more equitable and just.

AAS 302/SOC 303/ANT 378/GSS 340

Political Bodies: The Social Anatomy Of Power & Difference

In this seminar students will learn about the human body in its social, cultural, and political contexts. The framing is sociological rather than biomedical, attentive to cultural meanings, institutional practices, politics, and social problems. The course explicitly discusses bodies in relation to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, health, geography, and citizenship status, carefully examining how social differences come to appear natural. From clinics to prisons to borders to virtual realities, students develop a conceptual toolkit to analyze how society “gets under the skin”, producing differential exposure to premature death.