Research-Creation and Mode 2 Revisited: Thoughts on Knowledge Production in Artistic Practice

Chantal Provost

Doctoral Student in Art Studies and Practices, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal

Translated from the French by Catriona LeBlanc


Over the last twenty years, research-creation has been gaining ground within academia. [1] Its rising popularity is evident in the growing number of forums, conferences, and journals, development of new university programs, and establishment of funding programs dedicated to research-creation. This represents a significant paradigm shift, particularly in that it assumes the integration of artistic practice into research activities. The issue is no longer one of simply producing works of art, but of creating knowledge through research in artistic practice. [2] However, in Quebec as elsewhere, research-creation has to find a way to establish itself within the university. [3] In doing so, it disrupts more traditional conceptions of academic research. The goal of this article is to stimulate reflection on the concept of knowledge production in research-creation by focusing on specific characteristics of what Michael Gibbons and colleagues identified as Mode 2 of science. [4]

Mode 2 Knowledge Production

Published in 1994, The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies argues that Mode 1, the traditional scientific model, was giving way to a new scientific model, Mode 2. Although it must be noted that this theoretical proposition is founded primarily on disciplines in science and technology, it nonetheless provides an interesting framework for reflection, given that many research-creation projects consist of interdisciplinary or intersectional collaborations.

The authors assert that Mode 2, which refers to knowledge generated through application, transdisciplinarity, the diversification of research sites and actors, the heterarchical organization of scientific production, and new forms of quality control and evaluation, has been rising in importance since the 1940s. In contrast, Mode 1 is defined as disciplinary, homogeneous, hierarchical, and based on academic expertise. Despite numerous critiques, including lack of empirical evidence and a linear vision of the transition from Mode 1 to Mode 2, the book has stimulated much reflection on current conceptions of science and research. [5]

In a second book entitled Re-Thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty, three authors of the first collective work defend their previous arguments and deepen their analysis of the complex, dynamic relationship between science and society. [6] They observe a shift from science culture to research culture: “‘[R]esearch’ is now valued more highly, explicitly and implicitly, than ‘science.’” [7] Although the aforementioned characteristics of Mode 2 may only sometimes or partially apply to research-creation, it is nonetheless clear that research-creation participates in research culture. [8]

Research Context and Site and Actor Diversity

Mode 2 assumes that knowledge is generated through application. For Helga Nowotny and her collaborators, every step of the research process involves application. [9] They also note that “Mode 2 implies an enlargement of the number of participants in research and the widening of what is defined as research. It also implies a multiplication and social diffusion of the sites at which knowledge is produced.” [10]

In the arts, the establishment of numerous art- and practice-based programs has transformed studios and workshops not only into sites of practice, but sites of investigation as well. Furthermore, many artistic projects are based on research-action or research-intervention methodologies. Intimately linked to specific social contexts, these methodologies rest on an inclusive, participative vision of the individual. As Borgdorff states, “[I]n the creation of images, sounds, narratives, and experiences, the research delivers context-related knowledge and understandings of the life domains it touches upon.” [11]

Mode 2 also stimulates the diversification of research collaborators. In contemporary art, this shift leads to interdisciplinary collaboration among artists, scientists, engineers, and social actors. The resulting hybrid productions broaden disciplinary languages.

Nonetheless, Benoit Godin and Yves Gingras have demonstrated that, in the sciences in Quebec, universities are still the primary sites of research partnerships. [12] And what of art? In an article discussing a project that unites artists and computer scientists, Jean-Paul Fourmentraux observes that some art-science-technology partnerships more closely resemble service offerings than genuine collaboration and are organized hierarchically rather than heterarchically (Mode 2). [13] How can truly transdisciplinary productions be generated? How can diverse (artistic, technological, and scientific) aims and different ways of perceiving a work’s value be reconciled?

At the very least, it would seem that value is perceived differently not only in art and science, but in the art and academic worlds as well. In fact, the distinction between university-funded research and research in the professional sector remains clear-cut. Research-creation programs offered and definitions used by funding agencies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada and the Fonds de recherche du Québec – société et culture (FRQSC) differ significantly from those used by the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) and the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec (CALQ). [14]

Research-Creation Output Dissemination and Evaluation

The diversification of actors and production sites complexifies the dissemination and evaluation of research ‘results,’ or output. The transdisciplinarity of Mode 2 raises a number of issues, from copyright of the work and research results to the very nature of what has been created. Add to this the unpredictable and erratic nature of the research-creation process, and predicting results becomes difficult.

However, university research is expected to meet certain criteria: it must respect rigorous methods and processes, formulate problems and questions, and contribute to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. In 2007, SSHRC conducted an evaluation of its research-creation grant program in the fine arts that, notably, included consultation with artist-researchers. [15] Some respondents felt that the advancement of knowledge objective was too narrow. Others also pointed out the possible confusion between presenting a work to peers and to the general public. Still others questioned traditional modes of dissemination, like journals and conferences.

According to Dieter Lesage, current academic criteria are reductionist, and comparing research-creation and scientific research has proven perilous. He states:

Academies, then, could be asked not only to count their artistic publications, but also to dress up a categorisation of different types of artistic publications, categories which should be attributed different weights, according to their importance for the artistic research community, analogous to the way in which scientific publications are valued according to whether they are published in A, B or C journals. [16]

In the case of funded academic research, production and value are measured in a variety of ways. Bibliometric tools used to assess the weight and significance of researchers’ academic production are based on quantitative analysis methods. Nonetheless, even in databases like the Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI), one of three databases produced by Thomson ISI, writings and other productions resulting from research-creation activities are poorly represented. [17]

Evaluating non-discursive results is another significant issue. The United Kingdom’s Research Assessment Exercise (UK RAE 2008, now the UK Research Excellence Framework [REF 2014]) seeks to establish quality profiles for a variety of post-secondary education institutions and disciplines. [18] In the arts, non-discursive productions in the form of exhibits, images, mechanisms, and so on, are also assessed. Furthermore, in the “other outputs” category, researchers can indicate and describe contributions like artists’ residencies and organizing conferences. In Michael Biggs and Daniel Büchler’s results analysis of the UK RAE 2008 in Art and Design, the authors note that, in the case of other outputs, “[t]here is also a focus placed on the output as phenomenon rather than the physical manifestation of the research. This suggests that the experience of the activities is more relevant to the researcher than the actual physical result of it, which might be a journal article, artefact or exhibition.” [19, 20] To a certain extent, it is possible to move beyond evaluations based on ‘deliverables’ and guided by the logic of what is quantifiable.

Even so, more appropriate methods for cataloguing research-creation practices and establishing relevant indicators are perhaps required. Consulting artists’ books and writings, representations, presentations, and communication methods is the first and most obvious avenue of exploration. Tomas Hellström argues for revisiting some of the so-called classic criteria of scientific research. Specifically, he suggests leaving more room for serendipity and incorporating new actors into the community of peers, as proposed in Mode 2. [21]

For some authors, it is the concept of knowledge production itself that bears revisiting. Erik Andersson advances the idea of meaning production, while Henk Borgdorff states that explicit knowledge is not the goal of artistic research. [22] Rather, it seeks an “articulation of the unreflective, non-conceptual content enclosed in aesthetic experiences, enacted in creative practices, and embodied in artistic products.” [23]


Nowotny and colleagues argue that Mode 2 transforms how universities structure their programs and faculties. Increased openness to new research criteria and outputs is making it possible to conceive new ways of contributing to the advancement of knowledge. The place of research-creation within the university is part of this transformation, particularly because it gives rise to new forms of knowledge dissemination. Although university programs and research funding organizations in Quebec have recognized research-creation for about twenty years, the issues discussed here remain largely unexplored from empirical perspectives. [24] Continued field studies on artist-researchers would provide a better understanding of the diversity of research-creation actors, sites, and contexts, as well as relevant methods of dissemination, validation, and evaluation.


  1. In the present article, “research-creation” refers to research practices conducted within the university or funded by research grants.
  2. This expression is borrowed from Pierre Gosselin. For more information, see “La recherche en pratique artistique: spécificité et paramètres pour le développement de méthodologies, ” in La recherche-création. Pour une compréhension de la recherche en pratique artistique, dir. Pierre Gosselin and Éric Le Coguiec (Montréal: Presses de l’Université du Québec à Montréal, 2009), 21–31.
  3. Jenny Wilson, “Creative Arts Research: A long path to acceptance,” Australian Universties Review 53, no. 2 (2011): 68–76.
  4. Michael Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Swartzman, Peter Scott, and Martin Trow, The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemparary Societies (London: Sage, 1994).
  5. See Laurens K. Hessels and Harro van Lente, “Re-Thinking new knowledge production: a literature review and research agenda,” Research Policy 37, no. 4 (2008): 740–60.
  6. Helga Nowotny, Peter Scott, and Michael Gibbons, Re-Thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity, 2001).
  7. Ibid, 68.
  8. Borgdorff is of the same opinion. See chapter 4, where the issue is addressed. Henk Borgdorff, “Artistic Research within the Fields of Science,” in The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia (Leiden, The Netherlands: Leiden University Press, 2012), 77–102.
  9. Nowotny et al., Re-Thinking Science, 186.
  10. Ibid, 16.
  11. Borgdorff, The Conflict of the Faculties, 92.
  12. Benoit Godin and Yves Gingras, “Impact de la recherche en collaboration et rôle des universités dans la production des connaissances,” Sciences de la société 49 (2000): 11–26.
  13. Jean-Paul Fourmentraux, “Faire œuvre commune: dynamiques d’attribution et de valorisation des coproductions en art numérique,” Sociologie du travail 49, no. 2 (2007): 162–179.
  14. For more information on this issue, see Owen Chapman and Kim Sawchuk, “Research-Creation: Intervention, analysis and ‘Family resemblance,’” Canadian Journal of Communication 37, (2012): 5-26.
  15. Conseil de recherche en sciences humaines du Canada. Évaluation formative du programme de subventions de recherche-création en Arts et Lettres du CRSH, par Éric Archambault, Frédéric Bertrand, Manon Bourgeois and Julie Caruso (Montréal: Science-Métrix, 2007): 7.
  16. Dieter Lesage, “Who’s afraid of artistic research? On measuring artistic research output,” Art & Research 2, no. 2 (2009), accessed April 24, 2015,
  17. Bibliometrics relies primarily on the analysis of academic articles, whereas modes of communication and dissemination in the arts are more varied.
  18. Panel O evaluates artistic disciplines. See: Higher Education Funding Council for England, Scottish Funding Council, Higher Education funding for Wales, Department for Employment and Learning. Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) Panel criteria and working methods, Panel O. By Ed Hughes, Davina Madden, Raegan Hiles
    RA 01/2006(0) (Bristol, England, 2006).
  19. Michael Biggs and Daniel Büchler, “Inferring a collective concept of research from the actions of the art and design research community,” Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education 12, no.1 (2013): 7–19.
  20. Ibid, 15.
  21. Tomas Hellström, “Evaluation of artistic research,” Research Evaluation 19, no. 5 (2010): 310.
  22. Erik Andersson, “Fine Science et Social Art – on common grounds and necessary boundaries of two ways to produce meaning,” Art & Research 2, no. 2 (2009), accessed April 24, 2015,
  23. Borgdorff, The Conflict of the Faculties, 149.
  24. In Quebec, relevant literature has focused on defining research-creation and its methodologies. A study by Laurier and Lavoie (2013) is a rare example of field work involving academic artist-reseachers. See Diane Laurier and Nathalie Lavoie, “Le point de vue du chercheur-créateur sur la question méthodologique: une démarche allant de l’énonciation de ses représentations à sa compréhension,” Recherches qualitatives 32, no. 2 (2013): 294–319.


Chantal Provost is a doctoral student in Art Studies and Practices at the Université du Québec à Montréal. As part of her doctoral research, she is studying the socio-historical context of research-creation within the university. Her work also addresses the practices of artist-researchers and seeks to better understand specific characteristics of research-creation, including modes of production and dissemination and forms of presentation and evaluation. She also coordinates an art research group of instructors, artists, and cultural actors, as well as a college residential artist program. She holds a master’s degree in history and also conducts research in education and cultural mediation. She is a member of several research groups, including the Cultural Mediation Research Group (CMRC) and the Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur la formation et la profession enseignante (CRIFPE) (“Interuniversity Research Centre for Teaching and the Teaching Profession”).