Janet Vertesi

Assistant Professor
Email Address: 
Office Location: 
122 Wallace Hall

Janet Vertesi specializes in the sociology of science, knowledge, and technology. She has spent the past 7 years studying several NASA spacecraft teams as an ethnographer. Her book, Seeing like a Rover: Images and Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Chicago, 2014) draws on over two years of ethnographic immersion with the Mars Exploration Rover mission to show how scientists and engineers use digital images to conduct scientific research on another planet. She is currently working on followup study of the NASA-ESA Cassini mission to Saturn focusing on the role of sociotechnical organization in research, data-sharing, and decision-making on robotic spacecraft teams. Vertesi is also interested in the digital sociology: whether studying computational systems in social life, shifting sociological methods online, or applying sociological insights to build new technologies.  She holds a Master's degree from Cambridge and a PhD from Cornell, has received several grants from the National Science Foundation, and was awarded the Hacker-Mullins prize for best graduate student paper from the American Sociological Association, Science, Knowledge and Technology section in 2007.

How do science, technology and society influence each other?

As a sociologist and historian of science and technology, I am interested in many facets of the interrelation between science, technology and society.  How and why do we know what we know? What institutions and flows of people are required to craft scientific knowledge? How do social norms influence the development of technology, and what happens when those technologies move or those norms change? My research addresses these questions through many different projects. In my Ph.D. dissertation, I conducted an ethnography of the Mars Exploration Rover mission to understand how scientists worked with digital images to pursue scientific investigations on another planet. My current research project involves a follow-up, comparative study with the Cassini mission to Saturn, where I'm interested in the relationship between the social organization of spacecraft teams, their decision-making processes, and the scientific work that they accomplish. I have also published projects on subway maps and representations of urban space; on technology in transnational and postcolonial contexts; on GPS tracking of sex offenders; and on early modern astronomy. My work is mostly ethnographic, although I am also trained in ethnomethodology, and I especially enjoy applying my sociological insights to technology development through the field of Human-Computer Interaction.  As more and more technologies become part of our everyday lives, and as science occupies an increasingly important role in global policy debates, now more than ever it's important to understand how these tools and processes shape our contemporary experience, and to consider how we want to integrate them into our social worlds.

Publications List: 


Seeing Like a Rover: Images in Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014)with Cateljine Coopmans, Michael Lynch, and Steve Woolgar (editors). Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014).


"'Seeing like a Rover': Visualization, Embodiment and Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission," Social Studies of Science 42.3 (2011): 393-414.


with Paul Dourish. "The Value of Data: Considering the Context of Production in Data Economies," Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 2011, 533-542.


"‘Mind the Gap:’ The London Underground Map and Users’ Representations of Urban Space,” Social Studies of Science 38.1 (2008): 1-32.