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.

About the Book

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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About the Author

Janet Vertesi is Associate Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.

Dubbed “Margaret Mead among the Starfleet” in The Times Literary Supplement, Associate Professor Janet Vertesi is an expert 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. Vertesi is the author of two books about NASA science teams, and has also produced edited volumes with colleagues on the topic of images and representation in science, and studying digital environments and interactions.

In addition to her work with NASA, Vertesi is a leader in digital sociology, whether studying computational systems in social life, shifting research methods online, or applying social insights to build technologies along different lines. She holds a Master's degree from Cambridge and a PhD from Cornell, has received several grants from the National Science Foundation, and has been awarded top prizes for her work from the ASA's Science, Knowledge and Technology Section and Communication, Information Technology and Media Section, and the Society for Social Studies of Science. Vertesi is also affiliated faculty with Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy and History of Science Program, and an advisory board member of the Data and Society Institute.

Janet Vertesi

Sociologist of science, technology, and organizations

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Book Reviews

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Shaping Science is available for direct order from the University of Chicago or at online bookstores such as Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.
Shaping Science is available for Kindle and Nook e-readers. In addition, the University of Chicago offers an ePub and PDF version via their website.
As is common in practices of "studying up" among powerful organizations, it is standard in the field to give pseudonyms to institutions, organizations and people in the ethnography. It is a reminder that all organizations share features in common, and that the stories of "Paris" and "Helen" can and do apply far beyond NASA's reach.
Vertesi is available on a limited basis to consult about how to achieve your scientific or technical goals with a well-aligned organization.


Book Professor Vertesi to speak at your event!



Virtual lunch attendance and virtual stream.

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MIT Sloan School

Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management Seminar

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Science Visitor and Colloquium Planetary Science seminar

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Distinguished Researcher Speaker Series

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