Skip to main content
Biomedicine in museums

mode 1/mode 2 and science museums

In the last issue of Nordisk Museologi (Journal of Nordic Museums and Museology), Kristian Hvidtfeldt Nielsen from the Steno Institute in Aarhus argues that science museums today are caught in a paradox.

On the one hand museums wish to establish two-way interactions with the public about science and its relations with culture and society in a mode-2 fashion, á la Gibbons et al. (1994) On the other hand, he says, science museums are often based on a mode-1 understanding of science, i.e., as academic, investigator-initiated and discipline-based knowledge production.

Nielsen finds this problematic, and — since he is apparently a supporter of mode-2 knowledge production — suggests that science museums ought to be recreated “in interaction with similar transformation processes in the mode-2 society” (p. 40, my transl.) to emphasise the close interaction between science and society.

Apart from the un-historical and politically contested character of Gibbons et al.’s popular mode-1/mode-2 distinction, Nielsen’s suggestion is quite interesting. What would a mode-2 science museum actually look like? And more importantly: Who would be the owner and thus basically set the agenda? Can a mode-2 science museum be owned and administered by a university that (still) operates under mode-1 conditions?

Or is Nielsen actually suggesting that science museums should be transferred to business corporations or government organisations to enhance their focus on mode-2 knowledge production?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

More posts by Thomas Söderqvist