“All these worlds are yours except …”: Science Fiction and Folk Fictions at NASA
Although they command real spacecraft exploring the solar system, NASA scientists refer frequently to science fiction in the course of their daily work. Fluency with the Star Trek series and other touchstone works demonstrates membership in broader geek culture. But references to Star Trek, movies like 2001 and 2010, and Dr. Strangelove also do the work of demarcating project team affiliation and position, theorizing social and political dynamics, and motivating individuals in a chosen course of action. As such, science fiction classics serve as local folk fictions that enable embedded commentary on the socio-political circumstances of technoscientific work: in essence, a form of lay social theorizing. Such fiction references therefore allow scientists and engineers to openly yet elliptically discuss their social, political, and interactional environment, all the while maintaining face as credible, impartial, technical experts.
Balsamo, Anne. 1996. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Durham: Duke University Press.
Benjamin, Ruha. 2011. “Organized Ambivalence: When Sickle Cell Disease and Stem Cell Research Converge.” Ethnicity & Health 16 (4–5): 447–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/13557858.2011.552710.
———. 2016. “Racial Fictions, Biological Facts: Expanding the Sociological Imagination through Speculative Methods.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory,Technoscience 2 (2): 1–28.
———. 2018. “Prophets and Profits of Racial Science.” Kalfou 5 (1). https://doi.org/10.15367/kf.v5i1.198.
Burri, Regula Valérie. 2008. “Doing Distinctions: Boundary Work and Symbolic Capital in Radiology.” Social Studies of Science 38 (1): 35–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312707082021.
Burt, Ron S. 2004. “Structural Holes and Good Ideas.” American Journal of Sociology 110 (2): 349–99.
Clarke, Arthur C, and Stanley Kubrick. 1968. 2001, a Space Odyssey. New York: The New American Library.
Collins, Harry M., and Robert Evans. 2002. “The Third Wave of Science Studies: Studies of Expertise and Experience.” Social Studies of Science 32 (2): 235–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312702032002003.
Collins, Randall. 2004. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
Coulon, Alain. 1995. Ethnomethodology. 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks California 91320 United States of America: SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412984126.
Dourish, Paul, and Genevieve Bell. 2014. “‘Resistance Is Futile’: Reading Science Fiction alongside Ubiquitous Computing.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 18 (4): 769–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00779-013-0678-7.
Dunbar-Hester, Christina. 2008. “Geeks, Meta-Geeks, and Gender Trouble: Activism, Identity, and Low-Power FM Radio.” Social Studies of Science 38 (2): 201–32.
Edwards, Paul N. 1997. The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. First MIT Pr. Paperb. ed. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass. ;London: MIT.
Epstein, Steven. 2007. Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research. Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Galison, Peter. 1998. “Trading Zone: Coordinating Action and Belief.” In The Science Studies Reader, edited by Mario Biagioli, 137–60. New York: Routeledge.
Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Garfinkel, Harold, Michael Lynch, and E Livingston. 1981. “The Work of a Discovering Science Construed with Materials from the Optically Discovered Pulsar.” Philosophy of Social Science 11: 121–58.
Gieryn, Thomas F. 1999. Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doublesday.
———. 1961. Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. Hammondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Press.
Goodwin, Barbara. 1988. “Science‐fiction Utopias.” Science as Culture 1 (2): 107–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/09505438809526202.
Gusterson, Hugh. 1996. Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Haraway, Donna J. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routeledge.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University Of Chicago Press.
Hecht, Gabrielle. 1998. The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Helmreich, Stefan. 2009. Alien Ocean. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Hyams, Peter. 1984. 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Jameson, Fredric. n.d. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions.
Jasanoff, Sheila. 1987. “Contested Boundaries in Policy-Relevant Science.” Social Studies of Science 17 (2): 195–230.
Jasanoff, Sheila, and Sang-Hyun Kim, eds. 2015. Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press.
Kinchy, Abby J., and Daniel Lee Kleinman. 2003. “Organizing Credibility: Discursive and Organizational Orthodoxy on the Borders of Ecology and Politics.” Social Studies of Science 33 (6): 869–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312703336003.
Kirby, David. 2010. “The Future Is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-World Technological Development.” Social Studies of Science 40 (1): 41–70.
Kirby, David A. 2011. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Kubrick, Stanley. 1964. Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Columbia Pictures.
———. 1968. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Lynch, Michael. 1993. Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action: Ethnomethodology and Social Studies of Science. Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
McCain, Jessica, Brittany Gentile, and W. Keith Campbell. 2015. “A Psychological Exploration of Engagement in Geek Culture: E0142200.” PLoS One 10 (11). http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.princeton.edu/10.1371/journal.pone.0142200.
McCray, W. Patrick. 2012. The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
McCurdy, Howard E. 1994. Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Merton, Robert. 1942. “The Normative Structure of Science.” In The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, edited by Norman W Storer, 1. Sociology of Science in Europe:267–78. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Meyer, Nicholas. 1982. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Paramount Pictures.
Milburn, Colin. 2008. Nanovision: Engineering the Future. Durham: Duke University Press.
———. 2010. “Modifiable Futures: Science Fiction at the Bench.” Isis 101 (3): 560–69. https://doi.org/10.1086/655793.
Mirmalek, Zara. 2009. “Dreaming of Space, Imagining Membership: The Work Conduct of Heroes.” Management & Organizational History 4 (3): 299–315. https://doi.org/10.1177/1744935909337753.
Nimoy, Leonard. 1984. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Paramount Pictures.
O’Connor, Mike. 2012. “Liberals in Space: The 1960s Politics of Star Trek.” The Sixties 5 (2): 185–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/17541328.2012.721584.
Penley, Constance. 1997. NASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America. New York: Verso.
Prior, Lindsay. 2003. “Belief, Knowledge and Expertise: The Emergence of the Lay Expert in Medical Sociology: Belief, Knowledge and Expertise.” Sociology of Health & Illness 25 (3): 41–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.00339.
Rip, Arie. 2006. “Folk Theories of Nanotechnologists.” Science as Culture 15 (4): 349–65. https://doi.org/10.1080/09505430601022676.
Shaw, Debra Benita. 2000. Women, Science, and Fiction: The Frankenstein Inheritance. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire : New York: Palgrave.
Shilton, K. 2013. “Values Levers: Building Ethics into Design.” Science, Technology & Human Values 38 (3): 374–97. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243912436985.
Simakova, Elena. 2012. “Collaboration Talk: The Folk Theories of Nano Research.” Science as Culture 21 (2): 177–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2011.613990.
Stanley, John D. 1966. “Fictions: Legal and Organizational.” Academy of Management Journal 9 (2): 123–26. https://doi.org/10.5465/255030.
Star, Susan Leigh, and James R Griesemer. 1998. “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations,’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39.” In The Science Studies Reader, edited by Mario Biagioli, 505–24. New York: Routeledge.
Steen, M. 2015. “Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding It Full: Exploring the Ethics in Design Practices.” Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (3): 389–420. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243914547645.
Swidler, Ann. 1986. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological Review 51 (2): 273. https://doi.org/10.2307/2095521.
Traweek, Sharon. 1988. Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Varma, Roli. 2007. “Women in Computing: The Role of Geek Culture.” Science as Culture 16 (4): 359–76. https://doi.org/10.1080/09505430701706707.
Vaughan, Diane. 1997. The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. 1st ed. University Of Chicago Press.
Vertesi, Janet. 2015. Seeing like a Rover: How Robots, Teams, and Images Craft Knowledge of Mars. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press.
———. 2020. The Social Life of Spacecraft. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Wynne, Brian. 1992. “Misunderstanding Misunderstanding: Social Identities and Public Uptake of Science.” Public Understanding of Science 1 (3): 281–304.
Copyright (c) 2019 Janet Vertesi
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors of all content published in ESTS retain the copyright to their work, and agree to license them under one of the following Creative Commons licenses CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, CC BY 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, and refer to the individual article footer for specific licensing data. Please read our open access policy for more information.