Ruha Benjamin
Assistant Professor of Sociology and African American Studies
Boston University
United States

I am a sociologist with teaching and research interests in the areas of science, medicine and biotechnology; history and social studies of race and gender; science policy, public health, and critical social theory.


I am currently completing a book, People's Science: reconstituting bodies and rights on the stem cell frontier, which examines ethnoracial, gender, class, and disability politics as a constitutive feature of stem cell research. Drawing upon multi-sited fieldwork in California’s stem cell agency, biotech industry conferences, legal hearings, civic events,  a stem cell transplant facility, and a sickle cell clinic, I analyze the ways in which social identity and group interests co-produce this emerging science. A forthcoming paper, "Organized Ambivalence: When Sickle Cell Disease and Stem Cell Research Converge (Ethnicity & Health, Oct 2011), examines the ethnoracial dimensions of stem cell experimentation.

In a second project I am studying the geneticization of race and nationality in three countries (India, Mexico, and South Africa) that are mapping and marketing the genetic diversity of their populations. I am especially interested in the commercial forces that are driving the creation of  ‘ethnic drug markets’; contestations about the relationship between genes, disease, and environment; and the dynamic interplay between group origin stories and genetic code. A series of forthcoming papers explore these themes. 

In the first of these papers entitled ”A Lab of Their Own: Genomic Sovereignty as Postcolonial Science Policy” (Policy & Society, Fall 2009), I argue that research and government elites are strategically calibrating socio-political categories such as race and nationality with scientifically-produced groupings in order to biologically brand their populations. They do so within a sovereignty framework in order to maximize their gate-keeping position vis-à-vis emerging pharmaceutical markets. In seeking to empower the nation, however, scientific elites biologically reinscribe ethnoracial classifications, lending scientific legitimacy to existing social hierarchies.

Sessions I'm Associated With


Monday 25 July 2011: 4:00pm - 5:20pm


Tuesday 27 July 2010: 6:00pm - 6:45pm
Monday 23 July 2012: 2:45pm - 5:15pm