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

28 Oct 2015
5:00 pm - 7:30 pm

402 Barrows Hall

Event Type
Non-CSTMS Event

Dr. Janet Vertesi
Assistant Professor of Sociology at Princeton

This week at the Berkeley Sociology Forum Janet Vertesi will present her new book, Seeing like a Rover, with responses from John Lie, Roi Livne and Massimo Mazzotti.

In her stunning book, Seeing Like a Rover, Janet Vertesi observes and participates in the Mars Exploration Mission. For two years, and at multiple sites and different space centers, she follows the dramatic exploration of Mars by the robots Spirit and Opportunity. Her book is a meticulous account of the laborious construction of scientific knowledge, aimed at discovering whether there could have been human life on Mars. Vertesi describes how the robots became inscribed in the life of the scientists and engineers as a totem, to the point of bodily mimicking, invading of dreams, and governing rituals of interaction. In an elaborate social process that combines multiple disciplines, scientists collectively manufacture the interpretation of images of Mars through the manipulation and calibration of digital data sent back to Earth.  The consensus science that is won in this way becomes the science of seeing like a rover, a perspective that is ultimately constrained by a series of protocols that determine what passes for science, and thereby adjudicating between successful and failed discoveries. The book raises a myriad questions not just for the conduct of planetary science, but for science in general and for ethnographic social science in particular. Among Professor Vertesi’s other projects are, “Personal Privacy in the Digital Age,” “The Social Life of the Spacecraft,” and a study of the effects of the London Tube Map on social life.

This event is sponsored by: Sociology Department

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