Alka V. Menon is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University. She studies the relationship between medicine, technology, and society, with a focus on race and racism. Her book, Refashioning Race: How Global Cosmetic Surgery Crafts New Beauty Standards, draws on fieldwork in the U.S. and Asia to show how forces working at different scales (local, national, and global) stabilize the continuing use of racial categories in medicine. A second line of research examines trust in medicine, investigating cases from the doctor-patient relationship to the growing field of AI and health. Funded by an interdisciplinary National Science Foundation grant, this collaborative work investigates how different stakeholders decide whether to trust AI systems in medicine and beyond. Her award-winning research has appeared in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Social Science & Medicine, and Poetics and has also been supported by the Social Science Research Council.
Menon received her B.A. in the Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University. Her research and teaching interests span sociology, science and technology studies, racial and ethnic studies, gender studies, law & society, and qualitative methods.
Menon, Alka V. 2023. Refashioning Race: How Global Cosmetic Surgery Crafts New Beauty Standards. University of California Press.
Cosmetic surgery was once associated with a one-size-fits-all approach, modifying patients to conform to a single standard of beauty. As this surgery has become more accessible worldwide, changing beauty trends have led to a proliferation of beauty standards for members of different racial groups. In Refashioning Race, Alka V. Menon enters the world of cosmetic surgeons, journeying from a sprawling convention center in Kyoto to boutique clinics in the multicultural countries of the United States and Malaysia. She shows how surgeons generate and apply knowledge using racial categories and how this process is affected by transnational clinical and economic exchanges. Surgeons not only measure and organize but also elaborate upon racial differences in a globalized field of medicine. Focusing on the role of cosmetic surgeons as gatekeepers and producers of desired appearances, Refashioning Race argues that cosmetic surgeons literally reshape race—both on patients’ bodies and the broader level of culture.
Refashioning Race shows how cosmetic surgeons act as gatekeepers and producers of ideal racial appearances, reshaping how we think about race.
Menon, Alka V. and Chloe Sariego. 2022. “Engendering connection: The embodied emotional labor of U.S. cosmetic surgeons.” Social Science & Medicine 306: 115092. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115092.
Nelson, C.A., L.M. Pérez-Chada, A. Creadore, S.J. Li, K. Lo, P. Manjaly, A. Pournamdari, E. Tkachenko, J.S. Barbieri, J.M. Ko, A.V. Menon, R.I. Hartman, A. Mostaghimi. 2020. “Patient perspectives on the use of artificial intelligence for skin cancer screening.” JAMA Dermatology 156(5):501-512. DOI: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2019.5014
Menon, Alka V. 2019. “Cultural gatekeeping in cosmetic surgery: Transnational beauty ideals in multicultural Malaysia.” Poetics 75: 1-11. DOI: 10.1016/j.poetic.2019.02.005
Menon, Alka V. 2017. “Do online reviews diminish physician authority? The case of cosmetic surgery in the U.S.” Social Science & Medicine 181: 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.03.046
Menon, Alka V. 2017. “Reconstructing Race in American Cosmetic Surgery.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(4): 597-616. DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2016.1206590.
Courses and Seminars
SOCY 127 Health and Illness in Social Context
SOCY 160 Methods of Inquiry
SOCY 351/545 Race, Medicine, and Technology
National and International