1.2 Institutions and knowledge production

As the pace of economic change increases, many commentators are noting that innovation in goods and services is increasing at a similar pace, and that this is placing more and more pressure on organisations to develop new ideas, new know-how, expertise, new technologies. This trend has become so significant that people are using the term ‘knowledge economy’ to describe the dominant feature of such economies. Thus knowledge production and knowledge management have become important intellectual themes in technology policy and innovation discourse. The traditional way of producing knowledge is characterised by the Newtonian three phase ideal where, simplistically, basic science precedes applied science, which leads to technological development. Traditionally the knowledge producing institutions are universities, government research departments and laboratories, corporate laboratories, etc. A set of academics talk about these institutions and the institutionalised rules associated with the production of knowledge as “Mode 1” innovation activity. This refers not just to these institutions, but also to what counts as significant problems to be studied, who can practise science, and what constitutes good science. In “Mode 1,” knowledge is science, and knowledge producers are scientists.

Gibbons et al (1994) argue that a new form of knowledge production, “Mode 2,” is emerging alongside “Mode 1.” Science and scientists are no longer the only relevant terms; in “Mode 2” we refer to knowledge and practitioners. “Mode 2” is associated with a “wider temporary and heterogeneous set of practitioners, collaborating on a problem defined in a specific and localised context” (Gibbons et al). Knowledge production is not so tightly bounded by academia. It is widely diffused, and socially distributed in a global web of strategic alliances; collaborative agreements are supported through informal networks and good communication systems. Gibbons et al (1994) work led to the emergence of a new perspective and associated theories that go loosely under the heading of knowledge management. This perspective emphasises the importance of knowledge creation, transfer and use in competitive (and collaborative) organisations, and in particular on innovative processes, and associated aspects of technology policy. In analysing the trends towards new systems of knowledge production, a wide range of institutions are involved, thus giving shape to the institutional level of analysis and a radically different institutional configuration relevant to the new knowledge economy.

In “Mode 1” knowledge production is typically within a single discipline. In “Mode 2,” solving practical problems requires the integration of different skills and knowledge – it is transdisciplinary.Footnote 1 It develops its own evolving framework for solving problems; it develops its own methods, theories, and practices; its knowledge is diffused through practitioner networks, rather than through professional journals and conferences; its knowledge production is closely and dynamically linked with a succession of problem contexts rather than with the building of disciplinary knowledge. It is heterogeneous: there are a wider range of practitioners (knowledge producers) linked together in temporary teams and communication networks, reconfiguring and combining specialist knowledge into useful knowledge.

The generation of knowledge in a context of application leads to greater sensitivity about its effects and impacts i.e. greater reflexivity on the part of practitioners and because of the diversity of players in the knowledge production site, greater calls for social accountability. Quality control in “Mode 1” is based on peer review (e.g. through academic journals) usually within disciplinary boundaries. “Mode 2” quality control is broadly based and multi-dimensional, embracing social as well as technical criteria. The implications for government technology policy are to make traditional research institutions more permeable and collaborative; to support networks and alliances, to broker collaborations and to integrate educational, research and industrial/business polices.

Table 1 summarises the distinctive attributes of each mode.

Table 1

AttributeMode 1Mode 2
Problems set/solvedBy academic communityIn context of application
MotivationIncreased understandingPractical goal – useful
Nature of knowledgeDisciplinaryTransdisciplinary
Hierarchical/stableHeterarchicalFootnote 2/ transient
Quality controlMore socially accountable/reflexive

Activity 16

Begin this activity by reading the following extract from Gibbons et al (1994).

One of the reasons why boundaries have become fuzzy and why institutionalisation is taking new forms is related to the diffusion of Mode 2 knowledge production. In all realms of culture and society, the new mode is developing alongside Mode 1. As more and more aspects of life in society are perceived to involve issues having a techno-scientific dimension science cannot be left to scientists alone. The methods and techniques of knowledge production in Mode 2 have become important ways to investigate societal issues in which many individuals and groups have some stake. Examples of this are numerous: environmental and agricultural matters, diet and health problems, computerised databanks and privacy. Interactions between science and technology, on the one hand, and social issues on the other, have intensified. The issues are essentially public ones, to be debated in hybrid for a in which, there is no entrance ticket in terms of expertise. In such a participatory science, the goal is no longer truth per se, but responsible public decision making based upon understanding of complex situations where many key uncertainties remain to be resolved. New intermediary institutions are required to support this collective learning process, to manage interchanges between groups of interested parties, to analyse them, and to prepare the ground for decisions and to monitor and evaluate their results. These new processes are not under the control of scientific specialists, though the latter remain essential. Now specialists have a double responsibility. They have to be responsive not only to the scientific community but also to public decision makers.

Consider the discussion of “Mode 2” in the Gibbons et al extract, and the discussion of “Mode 1 and 2” in the discussion before and bring your understanding to bear on the issue of xenotransplantation.

One answer to the global shortage of organs for transplant is xenotransplantation. This is where animal organs are used for transplantation into humans. Xenotransplantion, in particular of pig organs to humans, is one answer to the shortage of organs. Robert Sparrow, an academic at the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Australia, has investigated xenotransplantation. As he says,

Much current research is directed towards the development of genetically modified pigs, designed so that their organs are more compatible for transplant. This is done, for instance, by arranging for their cells to express surface proteins that fool the immune system into decreasing its hostile response to the foreign tissue. The hope is that it will eventually be possible to use this technique to overcome the currently insurmountable problems of tissue rejection following xenotransplantation. Indeed, researchers have already met with some success in this area – at least when it comes to pig to (non-human) primate transplantation’ (2009, pp.120-121).

Question 11

In what ways is xenotransplantation a “Mode 1” issue?


It is a “Mode 1” issue because it is at the cutting edge of science and scientists are trying to overcome the clinical obstacles to rejection of animal organs within humans.

Question 12

In what ways is it a “Mode 2” issue?


It is a “Mode 2” issue because when scientists overcome tissue rejection and xenotransplantation becomes a viable clinical procedure in humans, there are ethical and religious issues that will need to be addressed by society before the practice can become a clinical reality.

Question 13

Make a list of the many fora and/or stakeholders that would need to be consulted about xenotransplanatation under “Mode 2.”


The medical profession, patients groups, government, religious groups particularly Islamic and Jewish groups for whom the pig is an unclean animal, animal welfare groups, livestock farmers, ethics committees etc.

1.1 Introduction to this section

1.3 Institutions and collective action