Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gibbons et al. (1994) Introduction: The new production of knowledge

The book The new production of knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies (1994) by Micheal Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott and Martin Trow first introduced the notion of Mode 2. Three of the authors of this book published a second book: Re-thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty (2001) and an article Mode 2 Revisited: the New Production of Knowledge (2003) as a reaction of the criticism that the previous book has received.


The first chapter of this book defines Mode 2 as a new form of knowledge production that started emerging from the mid 20th century and illustrates how it is different from Mode 1. Here I brought and modified a table from Hessels and Lente's article (2008) to quickly recap the different attributes of Mode 2 and Mode 1.

Mode 1
Mode 2
Problem solving
Academic context
Context of application
Knowledge base
Extent of org. unity/diversity
Process of knowledge production
Reflexivity/social accountability
Quality of knowledge
Traditional quality (peer review)
Novel quality control

The authors present the five principles of knowledge production in Mode 2 as follow:

  • Knowledge produced in the context of application
In Mode 1 problems are set and solved in a context governed by the (largely academic) interests of a specific community. By contrast, in Mode 2 knowledge is produced in a context of application involving a much broader range of perspectives.

  • Transdisciplinarity
Knowledge is formal and coded according to the canonical rules and procedures of academic disciplines in Mode 1. But in Mode 2, knowledge is problem-oriented; it attempts to salve problems by drawing on multiple disciplines, which interact in the real-world contexts of use and application, yielding solutions and new knowledge which are not easily reducible to any of the participating academic disciplines.

  • Heterogeneity and organizational diversity
In Mode 1, the development of disciplinary knowledge has historically been associated with universities and other institutions of higher education. These institutions often exist in (ivory tower) isolation from real-world problems. In Mode 2, Knowledge is produced in multiple sites by problem-solving teams with members emanating from various institutions: multinational firms, network firm, government institutions, research universities, laboratories and institutes as well as national and international research programs.

  • Social accountability and reflexivity
In Mode 1, the only reference points for disciplinary knowledge are academic peers and the canonical rules and procedures internal to the academic discipline. However in Mode 2, many of the problems addressed by transdisciplinary and trans-institutional knowledge workers today are of great social importance or commercial value. This is socially accountable knowledge.

  • Quality control
Mode 1 and Mode 2 each employ a different type of quality control. To be sure, peer review still exists in Mode 2 but it includes a wider, more temporary and heterogeneous set of practitioners, collaborating on a problem defined in a specific and localized context. As such, Mode 2 involves an expanded system of quality control compared with Mode 1.

The authors also emphasize that it is important to grasp that they don’t argue that the new practices are going to eliminate the old, that Mode 1 will eventually succumb to Mode 2. It is far more likely that both will continue to coexist. The terms of that co-existence depend as much on the response of institutions that are currently supporting Mode 1 as an the social diffusion of Mode 2.

At the end of the chapter they put some arguments of the reason why we need a concept of Mode 2. They state that the “expansion in the number of potential knowledge producers on the supply side and the expansion of the requirement of specialist knowledge on the demand side are creating the conditions for the emergence of a new mode of knowledge production (p.13).” Also they argue that the concept of Mode 2 can have implications for all the institutions that have a stake in the production of knowledge. 

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