In Shaping Science, Janet Vertesi draws on a decade of immersive ethnography with NASA’s robotic spacecraft teams to create a comparative account of two great space missions of the early 2000s. Although these missions featured robotic explorers on the frontiers of the solar system bravely investigating new worlds, their commands were issued from millions of miles away by a very human team. By examining the two teams’ formal structures, decision-making techniques, and informal work practices in the day-to-day process of mission planning, Vertesi shows just how deeply entangled a team’s local organizational context is with the knowledge they produce about other worlds.Using extensive, embedded experiences on two NASA spacecraft teams, this is the first book to apply organizational studies of work to the laboratory environment in order to analyze the production of scientific knowledge itself. Engaging and deeply researched, Shaping Science demonstrates the significant influence that the social organization of a scientific team can have on the practices of that team and the results they yield.
The book is a comparative ethnographic account of two spacecraft teams operating in the solar system at the dawn of the 21st century. In the first half of the book, "Orders", we learn about each one -- the Paris mission and the Helen mission -- how they make decisions, interact with each other, and resolve conflicts. In the second half, "Outcomes" we see how these organizational orders make a difference for scientific findings, datasets, instruments and career paths. At the heart of the argument is the idea of ORGANIZED SCIENCE: that scientific teams are organizations, that scientific organizations shape scientific outcomes, and that scientific outcomes, in turn, impact scientific organizations.
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What scholars have to say about Shaping Science.
"Vertesi takes us on a mission. Based on extraordinary access among the research teams of interplanetary spacecraft, she makes a convincing case that organizational differences make a difference in the types of knowledge produced by these scientists. The analysis is solid, the argument bold, and the writing lively."
"Shaping Science is a masterful ethnography of work and organization. Vertesi shows us what ethnomethodological fieldwork can and should be. On top of that, the book transports us to one of the most significant and consequential space missions ever attempted by NASA. If you study science, technology, work, or organizations, this book is a must read."
"What could be more fascinating than the social life of planetary science? Vertesi's book is among the very first to make legible and compare scientific collaborations in Big Science—while also showing how they affect knowledge work and epistemic outcomes. It shines important light on the people involved, the robots they create, and the way scientists and robots have intimate relationships in a highly organized science. The book is a must read in several fields, from organizational sociology and STS to human-machine interaction."
"In this magnificent book, Vertesi reveals how even planetary science, the science of other worlds, is shaped by organizational dynamics here on earth. Drawing on a decade of rich ethnography with NASA's robotic spacecraft teams, she vividly illuminates the social life of these projects and how different organizational models produce different kinds of knowledge about planets. Anyone interested in how science is made in practice will be riveted, as I was."
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