Mode 2

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Mode 2 is a term from the sociology of science which refers to the way (scientific) knowledge is produced. It contrasts with Mode 1 production of knowledge.

In Mode 2 multidisciplinary teams are brought together for short periods of time to work on specific problems in the real world for knowledge production. This 'mode' can be explained by the way research funds are distributed among scientists and how scientists focus on obtaining these funds. In contrast, Mode 1 is knowledge production which is motivated by scientific knowledge alone (fundamental research) and which is not bothered by the applicability of its findings. It is also founded on a conceptualization of science as separated into discrete disciplines (e.g., a biologist does not bother about chemistry).

The term was coined in 1994 by Michael Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott and Martin Trow in their book The new production of knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies (Sage).

The concept[edit]

Gibbons and colleagues argued that a new form of knowledge production began emerging in the mid-20th century that was context-driven, problem-focused and interdisciplinary. It involved multidisciplinary teams that worked together for short periods of time on specific problems in the real world. Gibbons and his colleagues labelled this "mode 2" knowledge production. He and his colleagues distinguished this from traditional research, labelled "mode 1", which is academic, investigator-initiated and discipline-based knowledge production. Limoges (1996:14-15) wrote that:

"We now speak of 'context-driven' research, meaning 'research carried out in a context of application, arising from the very work of problem solving and not governed by the paradigms of traditional disciplines of knowledge."

John Ziman drew a similar distinction between academic science and post-academic science in his 2000 book Real Science (Cambridge).

In 2001 Helga Nowotny, Peter Scott and Michael Gibbons published Re-thinking science: knowledge in an age of uncertainty (Polity) in which they extend their analysis to the implications of mode 2 knowledge production for society.


While the notion of mode 2 knowledge production has attracted considerable interest, it has not been universally accepted in the terms put forth by Gibbons and colleagues. Scholars in science policy studies have pointed to three types of problems with the concept of Mode 2; these problems regarded its empirical validity, its conceptual strength, and its political value (Hessels and Van Lente, 2008).

Concerning the empirical validity of the Mode 2 claims, Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000:116) argue that:

"The so-called Mode 2 is not new; it is the original format of science (or art) before its academic institutionalization in the 19th century. Another question to be answered is why Mode 1 has arisen after Mode 2: the original organizational and institutional basis of science, consisting of networks and invisible colleges. Where have these ideas, of the scientist as the isolated individual and of science separated from the interests of society, come from? Mode 2 represents the material base of science, how it actually operates. Mode 1 is a construct, built upon that base in order to justify autonomy for science, especially in an earlier era when it was still a fragile institution and needed all the help it could get (references omitted)."

In the same article Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000:111) use the notion of the triple helix of the nation state, academia and industry to explain innovation, the development of new technology and knowledge transfer. Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000:118) argue that:

"The Triple Helix overlay provides a model at the level of social structure for the explanation of Mode 2 as an historically emerging structure for the production of scientific knowledge, and its relation to Mode 1."

Steve Fuller, in his book The Governance of Science (Chapter 5) has criticised the 'Modists' view of the history of science because they wrongly give the impression that mode 1 dates back to seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution whereas mode 2 is traced to the end of either World War II or the cold war, whereas in fact the two modes were institutionalized only within a generation of each other (the third and the fourth quarters of the nineteenth century, respectively). Fuller claims that the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Germany, jointly funded by the state, the industry and the universities, predated today's "triple helix" institutions by an entire century.

Regarding the conceptual strength of Mode 2, it has been argued that the coherence of its five features is questionable. There might be a lot of multi-disciplinary, application oriented research that does not show organizational diversity or novel types of quality control (Rip, 2002).

Another problem with Mode 2 is that it lends itself to a normative reading. Several authors have criticized the way Gibbons and his co-authors seem to blend descriptive and normative elements. According to Godin (1998), the Mode 2 talk is more a political ideology than a descriptive theory. Similarly, Shinn (2002:604) complains: 'Instead of theory or data, the New Production of Knowledge—both book and concept—seems tinged with political commitment'.

Some writers have invented a mode 3 knowledge, which is mostly used to refer to emotional knowledge or social knowledge. But these writers miss the whole point of Gibbons et al. which was not to catalogue types of knowledge but to describe types of knowledge production or research[citation needed].

Mode 2 Management Research[edit]

One of the fields which picked up the idea of Mode 2 research most enthusiastically is that of management and organization studies. MacLean, MacIntosh and Grant offer a review of mode 2 management research[1] and MacIntosh et al. offer a more recent review of the ways in which management research has an impact on the lives of those working in organizations


  • Henry Etzkowitz & Loet Leydesdorff, (2000) The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and ‘‘Mode 2’’ to a Triple Helix of university–industry–government relations, * Research Policy, vol 29, pp 109–123.
  • Fuller, Steve, The Governance of Science. (2000). Open University Press. Buckingham. ISBN 0-335-20234-9.
  • Gibbons, Michael; Camille Limoges; Helga Nowotny; Simon Schwartzman; Peter Scott; Martin Trow (1994). The new production of knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage. ISBN 0-8039-7794-8.
  • Benoit Godin, (1998) Writing performative history: the new new Atlantis?, Social Studies of Science, vol 28, pp 465–483
  • Laurens Hessels and Harro van Lente, (2008) Re-thinking new knowledge production: a literature review and a research agenda, Research Policy, vol 37, pp 740–760
  • Nowotny, Helga; Peter Scott; Michael Gibbons (2001). Rethinking science: knowledge in an age of uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity. ISBN 0-7456-2607-6.
  • Arie Rip, (2002) Science for the 21st century. In: Tindemans, P., Verrijn-Stuart, A., Visser, R. (Eds.), The Future of Science and the Humanities, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, pp 99–148
  • Terry Shinn, (2002) The Triple Helix and new production of knowledge: prepackaged thinking on science and technology, Social Studies of Science, Vol 32, pp. 599–614
  • Ziman, John (2000). Real Science. What it is, and what it means. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-89310-0.
  1. ^ MacLean, D.; MacIntosh, R.; Grant, S. (2002-12-01). "Mode 2 Management Research". British Journal of Management. 13 (3): 189–207. doi:10.1111/1467-8551.00237. ISSN 1467-8551.

Further reading[edit]

  • Limoges, Camille (1996). L’université à la croisée des chemins : une mission à affirmer, une gestion à réformer. Quebec: Actes du colloque ACFAS.CSE.CST, Gouvernement du Québec Ministère de l'Éducation.