You can read more about my articles and essays below. Follow the links to full text, where available.


Seeing Like a Rover: How Robots, Teams and Images Craft Knowledge of Mars

In the years since the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity first began transmitting images from the surface of Mars, we have become familiar with the harsh, rocky, rusty-red Martian landscape. But those images are much less straightforward than they may seem to a layperson: each one is the result of a complicated set of decisions and processes involving the large team behind the Rovers.
With Seeing Like a Rover, Janet Vertesi takes us behind the scenes to reveal the work that goes into creating our knowledge of Mars. Every photograph that the Rovers take, she shows, must be processed, manipulated, and interpreted—and all that comes after team members negotiate with each other about what they should even be taking photographs of in the first place. Vertesi’s account of the inspiringly successful Rover project reveals science in action, a world where digital processing reveals scientific truths, where images are used to craft consensus, and where team members develop an uncanny intimacy with the sensory apparatus of a robot that is millions of miles away. Ultimately, Vertesi shows, every image taken by the Mars Rovers is not merely a picture of Mars—it’s a portrait of the whole Rover team, as well.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU)

Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited

Co-edited with Catelijne Coopmans, Michael Lynch, and Steve Woolgar. This volume revisits the topic of a classic text published in 1990, taking into account both the changing conceptual landscape of STS and the emergence of new imaging technologies in scientific practice. It offers cutting-edge research on a broad array of fields that study information as well as short reflections on the evolution of the field by leading scholars, including some of the contributors to the 1990 volume. The essays consider the ways in which viewing experiences are crafted in the digital era; the embodied nature of work with digital technologies; the constitutive role of materials and technologies—from chalkboards to brain scans—in the production of new scientific knowledge; the metaphors and images mobilized by communities of practice; and the status and significance of scientific imagery in professional and popular culture.

Seeing Like a Rover: Images in Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission

This dissertation analyzes the use of images on the Mars Exploration Rover mission to both conduct scientific investigations of Mars and plan robotic operations on its surface. Drawing upon three years of fieldwork with the Mars Rover team including ethnography, participant observation, and interviews, the dissertation contributes to the literature in Science & Technology Studies by advancing the analytical framework of drawing as: a practical corollary to Wittgenstein and Hanson’s concepts of seeing as that allows the analyst to explore the work of producing scientific images that draw natural objects as analytical objects to enable future representations and interactions. Further, images of Mars betray the social organization of the mission team and its commitment to consensus operations. Observing how images of Mars are drawn as trustworthy documents, drawn as a hypothesis or as a record of collective agreement, drawn as a map for the Rover and drawn as a public space, the disertation demonstrates how interactions with and around Mars Rover images support this political orientation, making the Rover’s body a body politic.


Lisa Messeri and Janet Vertesi, "The Greatest Missions Never Flown: Anticipatory Discourse and the “Projectory” in Technological Communities," Technology and Culture 2015.

This article introduces the concept of the sociotechnical projectory to explore the importance of future-oriented discourse in technical practice. It examines the case of two flagship NASA missions that, since the 1960s, have been continually proposed and deferred. Despite the missions never being flown, it argues that they produced powerful effects within the planetary science community as assumed “end-points” to which all current technological, scientific, and community efforts are directed. It asserts that attention to the social construction of technological systems requires historical attention to how actors situate themselves with respect to a shared narrative of the future.

Keywords: Future-making, imaginaries, community, budgeting

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Janet Vertesi, "Seamful Spaces: Heterogeneous Infrastructures in Interaction," Science Technology and Human Values January 2014.

Understanding contemporary environments in the laboratory and elsewhere requires grappling conceptually with multiple, coexisting, nonconforming infrastructures which actors engage at the same time. In this article, I develop the analytical vocabulary of “seams” for studying heterogeneous, multi-infrastructural environments. Drawing upon six years of ethnographic fieldwork with two distributed science teams, as well as studies in Ubiquitous Computing, I examine overlaps among infrastructures and how actors work creatively with and across their seams. Rather than suggesting that actors are hemmed in or incapacitated by multiple infrastructural commitments, inclusions, and exclusions, I show instead how they work artfully to align them in ways concordant with membership and how this produces both consequences for their work and opportunities for analysis.

Keywords: Infrastructures, complexity, heterogeneity, multiplicity

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"Seeing Like a Rover": Visualization, Embodiment and Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Social Studies of Science 42.3 (June, 2012):393-414.

Based on more than 2 years of ethnographic immersion with the Mars Exploration Rover mission, this paper examines the representational work and associated embodied practices through which the science and engineering team makes decisions about how and where to move their robots. Building on prior work in Science and Technology Studies on the importance of embodiment to visualization, the paper posits that such practices also contribute to the production and maintenance of social order within the organizational context of the laboratory. It thus places visualization technologies and techniques in the context of the social organization of scientific work, contributing to our understanding of representation in scientific practice.

Keywords: embodiment human–robot interaction planetary science representation social organization

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Goodman, E. and J. Vertesi, Design for X? Distribution Choices and Ethical Design, Extended Abstracts of CHI 2012, New York: ACM Press, alt.CHI 2012, Ext. Abst. CHI 2012.

This paper investigates an especially value-laden product category: sex-oriented technologies. Reviewing four systems encountered through qualitative fieldwork at an adult entertainment trade show, we examine how designers make claims for distribution of agency in their systems, and the consequent technical choices. In the face of diverse configurations of systems, users, and designers, we suggest that designers treat their practice less as an expression of enduring or user-specific 'values,' and more as a series of decisions about the ethical distribution of control and responsibility within systems.

Keywords: Values; design; sexuality

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Vertesi, J. and P. Dourish. The Value of Data: Considering the Context of Production in Data Economies, Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 2011, New York: ACM Press, pp.533-542.

In this paper we argue that how scientific collaborations share data is bound up in the ways in which they produce and acquire that data. We draw on ethnographic work with two robotic space exploration teams to show how each community's norms of "data-sharing" are best understood as arising not from the context of the use or exchange of data, but from the context of data production. Shifting our perspective back to the point of production suggests that digital artifacts are embedded in a broader data economy. We present implications for analysis of data in interactional context, and for introducing systems or policies that conflict with the value of data in its context of production.

Keywords: Data sharing; scientific collaboration.

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Vertesi, J., I. Shklovski, and S. Lindtner, Transnational HCI: humans, computers, and interactions in transnational contexts, Extended Abstracts of the 2011 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, New York: ACM Press,

This workshop will consider the implications for conducting research and technology design within and across global and networked sites of technology production and use. In particular, we focus on transnational practices: that is, seeing technology use beyond a single country or culture, but as evolving in relation to global processes, boundary crossings, frictions and hybrid practices. In doing so, we expand upon existing research in HCI to consider the effects, implications for individuals and communities, and design opportunities in times of increased transnational interactions. We hope to broaden the conversation around the impact of technology in global processes by bringing together scholars from HCI and from related humanities, media arts and social sciences disciplines.

Keywords: Transnationalism; Design; HCI4D; ICT4D; mobility; cross-cultural communication; global; local.

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The Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Chapter in: Leadership in Science and Technology: A SAGE Reference Handbook, ed. W. Bainbridge, New York: SAGE Publications, 2011.

Brief article for SAGE's Handbook of Leadership in Science and Technology regarding the social organization and operation of the Rover team.

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Irani, L., J. Vertesi, P. Dourish, K. Phillip and R. Grinter, Postcolonial Computing: A Lens on Design and Development, Proceedings of the 2010 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, New York: ACM Press, 1311-1320.

As our technologies travel to new cultural contexts and our designs and methods engage new constituencies, both our design and analytical practices face significant challenges. We offer postcolonial computing as an analytical orientation to better understand these challenges. This analytic orientation inspires four key shifts in our approach to HCI4D efforts: generative models of culture, development as a historical program, uneven economic relations, and cultural epistemologies. Then, through reconsideration of the practices of engagement, articulation and translation in other contexts, we offer designers and researchers ways of understanding use and design practice to respond to global connectivity and movement.

Keywords: Postcolonial theory, STS, culture, design methods, ICT4D.

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Instrumental Images: the Visual Rhetoric of Self-Presentation in Hevelius' Machina Coelestis, British Journal for the History of Science 43 (2010): pp. 209-243

This article places the famous images of Johannes Hevelius’s instruments in his Machina Coelestis (1673) in the context of Hevelius’s contested cometary observations and his debate with Hooke over telescopic sights. Seen thus, the images promote a crafted vision of Hevelius’s astronomical practice and skills, constituting a careful self-presentation to his dis- tant professional network and a claim as to which instrumental techniques guarantee accurate observations. Reviewing the reception of the images, the article explores how visual rhetoric may be invoked and challenged in the context of controversy, and suggests renewed analytical attention to the role of laboratory imagery in instrumental cultures in the history of science.

Keywords: Hevelius; Visual Astronomy; Visual Rhetoric; Self-Presentation

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Tweeting Spacecraft: Communicating Science in the Age of Web 2.0, Communicating Astronomy with the Public Number 10, December 2010, 30-33.

Since 2008 NASA spacecraft have been using the microblogging service, Twitter, to communicate science topics and results to a long list of public followers. In its ability to reach hundreds of thousands of individual users, Twitter offers many benefits for the public communication of astronomy. But to use social media services responsibly requires several competing tensions outlined here to be balanced: specifically, with respect to agency1 and intimacy, and scientific expertise.

Keywords: Twitter; Web 2.0; Microblogging

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Shklovski, I., J. Vertesi, E. Troshynski, and P. Dourish, The commodification of location: dynamics of power in location-based systems, In: Proceedings of the 11th international conference on Ubiquitous computing (Ubicomp 2009). New York: ACM Press, 2009, pp. 11-20.

Location-based ubiquitous computing systems are entering mainstream society and becoming familiar parts of everyday life. However, the settings in which they are deployed are already suffused with complex social dynamics. We report on a study of parole officers and parolees whose relationships are being transformed by location-based technologies. While parolees are clearly subjects of state discipline, the parole officers also find themselves subject to new responsibilities. This study highlights the complexities of power in sociotechnical systems and what happens when location becomes a tradable, technological object.

Keywords: Discipline, Power, Surveillance, GPS.

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Mind the Gap: The London Underground Map and Users' Representations of Urban Space, Social Studies of Science 38 (2008).

This paper explores the effects of iconic, abstract representations of complex objects on our interactions with those objects through an ethnographic study of the use of the London Underground Map to tame and enframe the city of London. Official reports insist that the `Tube Map's' iconic status is due to its exemplary design principles or its utility for journey planning underground. This paper, however, presents results that suggest a different role for the familiar image: one of an essential visual technology that stands as an interface between the city and its user, presenting and structuring the points of access and possibilities for interaction within the urban space. The analysis explores the public understanding of an inscription in the world beyond the laboratory bench, the indexicality of the immutable mobile's visual language, and the relationship between representing and intervening. It further suggests fruitful crossovers between Science Studies, Urban Studies, and Human—Computer Interaction by approaching the individual as a `user' of a city and its graphical interface, applying the technique of cognitive mapping to overlapping virtual and analog spaces, and exploring the social and practical effects of strong and standardized visual languages on further narratives and interactions with scientific, technological, or everyday objects.

NOTE: This paper received the Hacker Mullins Prize for best graduate student paper from the American Sociological Association's Science, Knowledge and Technology Section in 2006.

Keywords: cities imaging immutable mobile maps representing and intervening visual language visualization

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Seeing Like a Rover: Embodied Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Extended Abstracts of CHI 2008, New York: ACM Press, 2523-2532.

Although they work with two non-humanoid robots located several million miles away, the distributed team that operates the Mars Exploration Rovers demonstrates an uncanny sympathy for their robotic teammates. This paper examines not only how the Rovers are anthropomorphized by the human team, but also how the team takes on characteristics of the Rovers while conducting science and operations on Mars. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork with the Mars Rover mission, the paper places the configuration of the user in social context and probes the role of the machine as social resource, with implications for HCI.

Keywords: Human-Robot Interaction, embodied computing, anthropomorphism, usability, affect, social robotics.

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Picturing the Moon: Hevelius and Riccioli's Visual Debate, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 38.2 (June 2007): pp. 401–421.

This article investigates the maps of the moon produced in the mid-seventeenth century by Jesuit Giambattista Riccioli (1598–1671) and Johannes Hevelius (1611–1687), whose cartographic projects competed for widespread acceptance. Although Hevelius’s Selenographia (1647) was applauded for its many detailed, self-engraved pictures of the moon, his cartography and proposed nomenclature were supplanted by Riccioli’s as offered in Almagestum novum (1651), in spite of the latter’s simplistic pictures and promotion of geocentric cosmology. Exploring this paradox through pictorial analysis, three types of images common to both Selenographia and Almagestum novum are compared, employing an analytical tool developed by Svetlana Alpers in The art of describing (1983). A focus on this debate exposes the tensions evoked by new technologies of vision and competing cultures of visual epistemology in seventeenth-century astronomy. As both selenographers grappled with questions about the role of representation and what kinds of knowledge could be generated visually, the successes and failures of their competing projects present implications for the course of visual astronomy, as well as for our understanding of the use of ‘visual technologies’ in a period of controversy.

Keywords: Johannes Hevelius; Giambattista Riccioli (Giovanni Battista); Svetlana Alpers; Astronomy; Early modern; Moon maps; Visual culture; Images in science

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Boehner, K., J. Vertesi, P. Sengers and P. Dourish. How HCI Interprets the Probes, In: Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '07), New York: ACM Press, 2007, pp. 1077-1086.

We trace how cultural probes have been adopted and adapted by the HCI community. The flexibility of probes has been central to their uptake, resulting in a proliferation of divergent uses and derivatives. The varying patterns of adaptation of the probes reveal important underlying issues in HCI, suggesting underacknowledged disagreements about valid interpretation and the relationship between methods and their underlying methodology. With this analysis, we aim to clarify discussions around probes, and, more importantly, around how we define and evaluate methods in HCI, especially those grounded in unfamiliar conceptions of how research should be done.
NOTE: This paper was a Nominee for the Best Paper Award at CHI 2007.

Keywords: Cultural probes, probes, reflective HCI.

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DiSalvo, C. and J. Vertesi, Imaging the City: Exploring the Practices and Technologies of Representing the Urban Environment in HCI, Extended Abstracts of CHI 2007, New York: ACM Press, 2829-2832.

Developing and employing technologies for the urban environment requires visualization techniques that can reflect and challenge how and what we design for this space. This one-day workshop will explore the practices and technologies of Imaging the City from the perspective of Human-Computer Interaction, bringing together designers, HCI experts, and urban planners to deeply address the roles for imaging technologies in civic space.

Keywords: Urban Design, Urban Planning, Visual Research Methods, Visualization

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Pygmalion's Legacy: Cyborg Women in Science Fiction, in: Sci Fi in the Mind's Eye, M. Grebowicz (ed.), Open Court, 2007, pp.73-86.

"Where does the machine end and the human begin?" asks critical theorist Donna Haraway in her famous "Cyborg Manifesto" (1991, 19). This essay asks a different question: where doesthe machine end and the woman begin? And what cultural concepts of gender identity are implicit in the way we choose to sculpt the female machine? To address these questions, we will survey several classic images of the fictional cyborg woman - the gynoid - with an eye to what identifies her as female for both her audience and fellow characters. When considered as "no more than meets the eyes," gynoids in science fiction offer us a glimpse of our own feminine ideals, cultural constructions with repercussions in our own nonfictional world.

Keywords: Cyborg; Gynoid; Gender; Science Fiction.

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Kaye, J., J. Vertesi, S. Avery, A. Dafoe, S. David, L. Onaga, I. Rosero, and T Pinch (2006), To have and to hold: exploring the personal archive, in: Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Somputing Cystems (CHI '06), New York: ACM Press, 275-284.

The personal archive is not only about efficient storage and retrieval of information. This paper describes a study of forty-eight academics and the techniques and tools they use to manage their digital and material archiving of papers, emails, documents, internet bookmarks, correspondence, and other artifacts. We present two sets of results: we first discuss rationales behind subjects' archiving, which go beyond information retrieval to include creating a legacy, sharing resources, confronting fears and anxieties, and identity construction. We then show how these rationales were mapped into our subjects' physical, social and electronic spaces, and discuss implications for development of digital tools that allow for personal archiving.

Keywords: Archiving, ethnography, identity, filing, email, bookmarks.

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Other works (unpublished)

Vertesi, J. and P. Dourish. The Social Life of Spacecraft: The Organization of Interplanetary Robotic Exploration Systems. LUCI Technical Report 2008.

Theorists in the social and historical studies of science and technology have long explored how technologies are con- structed alongside assumptions about the organization of (scientific) labour and ideologies of the human and the machine. Building on existing engagements, our project will explore these interconnections in detail through ethnog- raphy, interviews, and archival work on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission and comparative case studies. Through our ethnographic and archival work, this research will offer a detailed, grounded case study of high- visibility scientific work conducted under extreme conditions of distribution and virtuality, in a complex organiza- tional setting; through our comparative work, we will draw out the particular importance of, and relationship be- tween, organizational culture and structure in these cases of “interplanetary sociotechnical systems.”

Keywords: Cyberinfrastructure, qualitative research, spacecraft teams, virtual organizations as sociotechnical systems.

Cyberinfrastructure in Interplanetary Collaboration: The Case of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Position paper for CSCW 2008 Workshop, "Designing Cyberinfrastructure to Support Science."

This position paper for the CSCW 2008 Workshop, Designing Cyberinfrastructure to Support Science, presents the challenges and opportunities of designing for interplanetary collaboration between teams of terrestrial scientists and engineers, and their robotic counterparts exploring other planets in our solar system. The case study of the Mars Exploration Rover team is used to present two sets of relevant issues to CSCW researchers and designers that arise from the context of interplanetary mission operations: light-weight, short-term fixes that become long- term solutions, and the political role of cyberinfrastructure.

Keywords: Cyberinfrastructure, qualitative research, Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), space exploration

Mind the Gap: The London Underground Map as User Interface. Position paper for CHI 2005 workshop on Cities as Public Interfaces.

An essential, but often ignored, technology that stands as the interface between the city and its public is the map. But how can a visual representation influence a user’s points of contact within, mental organization of and access to urban space? In this paper I present results from an ethnographic study demonstrating how a familiar subway map – the ‘Tube Map’ – structures the ways in which users of London conceptually organize, understand, and interact with the city. The project suggests fruitful crossover areas between both theory and practice in HCI, Urban Planning and Science & Technology Studies by approaching the individual as a ‘user’ of a city, applying the technique of cognitive mapping to overlapping virtual and analog spaces, and exploring the social and practical effects of strong and standardized graphical user interfaces.

Keywords: User studies, graphical interface, ethnography, cognitive mapping, transportation systems, London Underground.

Brubaker, J. and J. Vertesi. Death and the Social Network. Position paper for CHI 2010 workshop, "Death and the Digital."

We analyze profiles and associated comments on social network sites following the death of the user to suggest two novel approaches to death and computing. Using the dead as examples of “extreme users”, we develop recommendations for design of Web2.0 applications that consider the importance of intersubjectivity in online identity construction and management, and the ubiquity of technospiritual practices.

Keywords: Death; extreme users; intersubjectivity; identity persistence; technospirituality.

Intercultural Probes as a method for reflective HCI. Paper for CHI 2006 workshop, "Reflective HCI."

This position paper suggests that a discussion of the research agenda for Reflective HCI should include articulating and compiling those practices and methods which might characterize this approach, and which can be made available to HCI specialists and design professionals so as to integrate reflective strategies into their everyday practice in both research and industrial settings. The paper briefly discusses the case study of the Intercultural Probe, a version of Gaver et al.’s Cultural Probe [9], a method designed to bring the designer’s own values to the fore by placing them in context amongst those of the identified target users, thus incorporating critical reflection methodologically into the design process. Intercultural Probes may be an example of a reflective design practice in HCI which can be applied or adapted to a number of research contexts, introducing a reflective component to other designers and furthering the agenda of Reflective HCI.

Keywords: Reflective Design; Cultural Probes.

Light and Enlightenment in Joseph Wright of Derby's The Alchymist. MPhil thesis, University of Cambridge Dept of History and Philosophy of Science, 2002.

This essay proposes a new analysis of The Alchymist by addressing three questions: “Who is enlightened, by what, and why?” The analysis will begin with a focussed discussion of the painting’s peculiar treatment of its subject in the context of the history of chemistry, where it plays with sensitive ideas of historicity, theory and practice, and discovery. We will then move to answer the question of what kind of enlightenment the alchemist is experiencing, derived from a close reading of the painting’s symbolism and composition with respect to Wright’s use of light in the piece. Finally, we will situate the painting within Wright’s own position with respect to the Lunar Society and the Royal Academy, gleaning a role for the provincial or fringe practitioner with their artisanal knowledge with respect to both chemistry and painting.

Keywords: Joseph Wright; Alchemy; Chemistry; Enlightenment; Science and Art

Sociological Considerations for the Success of Unmanned Missions. Vertesi, J., Pappalardo, B., Alexander, C., Clancey,W., Cohen, B., Dourish,P., Johnson, J., Larsen, B., Lichtenberg, K., Linde, C., Maxwell,S., Mirmalek, Z. and Moore, J. White Paper submitted to the Planetary Society Decadal Survey, 2013-2023 (2009).

While planetary spacecraft are unmanned, the missions are manned, and must be understood in that way. This requires the addition of the social sciences to the science and engineering disciplines that develop them. In this White Paper, we argue that alongside scientific and technical considerations, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey should require that missions incorporate deeper consideration of the social science of spacecraft operations to maximize their missions’ scientific, technical and fiscal success. After all, each mission’s unique configuration of human interactions, relationships and roles lends it a different culture – a “style” or “personality”– that affects how the mission proceeds, how goals are met, and how science is done.

Keywords: Sociology of Spacecraft; Mission Sociology