Mode Two Knowledge

Gibbons and colleagues argued that a new form of knowledge production started emerging from the mid...

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Will Pollard
2 June 2010

Gibbons and colleagues argued that a new form of knowledge production started emerging from the mid 20th century which is context-driven, problem-focused and interdisciplinary. It involves multidisciplinary teams brought together for short periods of time to work on specific problems in the real world. Gibbons and his colleagues labelled this "mode 2" knowledge production. This he and his colleagues distinguished from traditional research, which they labelled "mode 1", which is academic, investigator-initiated and discipline-based knowledge production.

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Will Pollard
3:17pm 2 June 2010

This cloud is part of a cloudscape for Experimentality, a conference in Lancaster this July. i will talk about Plan-Do-Check/Study-Act and try to present quality as a mode two sort of subject. I know rthere are those who see a "dark side" to mode 2 and this has to be discussed if only to get past it. Or at least work out what sort of approach would meet the concerns.

Derek Jones
5:12pm 2 June 2010

Very interesting, Will - hadn't come across this before. A lot of things fit this pattern when you think about it - some that don't totally fit with Khun's picture. There are also a few interesting tie-ins between the two as well ...

Is objectivity greater via cooperative action and consensus rather than top-down authoritative per review ?


Will Pollard
12:24pm 4 June 2010

Derek, I don't think the peer review aspect is making that much difference. What is peer review? On a Google doc you can see who said what and what was changed. In a printed journal there is a list of people who may have seen a particular article. I think eventually the public record of how a document was created has a similar sort of authority.

The major difference is that mode one subjects are more abstract and less concerned with particular projects. Physics and Chemistry have got limited scope. Both could contribute something to how I next make cheese sauce but if it turns out lumpy this will not be a challenge to Physics or Chemistry as such.

The original work on mode two knowledge was mostly about science and engineering. The application to management and applied social sciences  raises issues about what sort of subjects these are.

Will Pollard
11:42am 7 June 2010

I have added a link to the cloud on TEL and interdisciplinary research. The paper has a section on "mode two" and lists Nowotny as a reference.

I have added that cloud to the Experimentality cloudscape and then added a comment there. 

Will Pollard
9:38am 9 June 2010

Derek, i think I missed the point of what you were saying. "Top-down authoritative peer review" may be different to the peer review that is replicated by social media. Is there another phrase than "peer review"? Is it meaning clearance by a hierarchy?


Robert Farrow
9:51am 9 June 2010

Hi - I wrote the material on Mode Two knowledge for the paper in question.

I think we have some reason to be sceptical about the idea that the Mode One/Mode Two dichotomy exists. 

Firstly, there are many reasons to think that interdisciplinarity (and the variants thereof - Nowotony speaks about 'transdisciplinarity' wihch specificially refers to research questions which span multiple disciplines rather than, for example, the synthesis of research findings or the co-presence of mutually respecting or complementary disciplines) is ever anywhere near as successful in its execution as in its vision. 

Secondly, all research is 'context driven' and 'problem-focused' else it is weak, irrespective of the Mode One/Mode Two distinction.

I suppose the worry is that adherents of Mode Two knowledge may come to see the validity of research measured in the extent to which it has wider social impact, whereas I would argue that this is something which is (at best) more or less contingent or (at worst) ideologically driven. 

I'm not against stakeholder engagement by any means.  It just seems to me there is a danger in place a bit too much weight on stakeholder democracy and not enough on the role of expert knowledge.

Will Pollard
11:57am 9 June 2010

Robert, thanks for comment and Kunneman link.

I became interested in this through working as a quality manager and relatiing to Management Learning as an academic subject. There is not much academic status for quality as a subject, I think. The ideas come mostly from practitioners.

I have had a quick look at Social Work as a Laboratory. Might be relevant for quality managers, I shall try it out. Obviously the context is commercial but there is a range of views.

The Experimentality conference is July 7-9. My talk is on the Friday between 11.30 and 1300 (one of three so roughly half an hour). One of the keynotes on Friday between 9.30 and 11 is by Helga Nowotny so I may change things depending what is said.

Plan A is ten minutes on why academics could be interested in quality, ten minutes on Plan - Do - Check/Study - Act ( see another cloud) and ten minutes looking at the conference website and other examples. Quality ideas could contribute to how the web changes relate to organisations.

I will use the TEL and Interdisciplinary Research report as a structure. It is explicit on a critique in a way that is otherwise hard to find.


Will Pollard
12:17pm 13 June 2010 (Edited 12:18pm 13 June 2010)

I have permission to copy this below from Alan Clark on a LinkedIn discussion from the CQI. More about the context later. a website is under development.

Some parts of systems thinking have made it through into Mode 1. Systems Dynamics (MIT, Jay Forrestor and Peter Senge), Soft Systems (Peter Checkland and Brian Wilson-of Lancaster Uni) and the Viable System Model (Professor Stafford Beer) are subject areas. Some of the post War pioneers were people like von Bertalanffy (General Systems Theory), Norman Wiener and W Ross Ashby. Gregory Bateson is someone you could also look into. 
To me Systems Thinking is by definition Mode 2! Effects, behaviours and results or outcomes emerge from interactions (between people). Even in Mode 1 systems theory tended to be interdisciplinary.

My question was to ask if Systems is now a mode 1 subject. So there is still no clear dichotomy in knowledge modes but this comment opens up a lot of scope for discussion. 

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