“Shaping Science: Organizations, Cultures, and Decision-Making on NASA’s Teams”
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Janet Vertesi, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Princeton University.
Co-sponsored by the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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Please note: This event requires registration by noon on Friday, September 18 to receive the meeting link and password.
How does the way we organize our technoscientific collaborations impact our results? I present a comparative ethnographic study of work on two of NASA’s famous robotic spacecraft mission teams. While the robots appear to explore autonomously on the frontiers of space, a large, distributed team of scientists and engineers on Earth makes the decisions about what they should do and how they accomplish their science. As spacecraft team members negotiate for robotic time and resources, this reveals the role that sociotechnical organizations play in understanding how decisions are made and which data are acquired, with implications for scientific biographies and discoveries. I therefore suggest new ways to enroll the sociology of contemporary organizations in our continuing analysis of the coproduction of science and social order.
Dubbed “Margaret Mead among the Starfleet” in the Times Literary Supplement, Janet Vertesi is assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, where she specializes in the sociology of science, technology, and organizations. Her past decade of research, funded by the National Science Foundation, examines how distributed robotic spacecraft teams work together effectively to produce scientific and technical results. She is the author of Seeing Like a Rover: How robots, teams and images craft knowledge of Mars (Chicago, 2015), co-editor with David Ribes and others of digitalSTS (Princeton, 2019) and of Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited with Catelijne Coopmans, Michael Lynch, and Steve Woolgar (MIT Press, 2014), and author of the forthcoming Shaping Science: Organizations, Decisions, and Culture on NASA’s Teams (Chicago, 2020).