T07P13 - Think-tanks in Action: A Comparative Perspective

Topic : Policy Design, Policy Analysis, Expertise and Evaluation

Panel Chair : Jordan Tchilingirian - j.s.tchilingirian@bath.ac.uk

Panel Second Chair : Marcos Gonzalez Hernando - mjg221@cam.ac.uk

Panel Third Chair : Enrique Mendizabal - enrique@mendizabal.co.uk

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

In the past thirty years, think-tanks have attracted considerable attention within public debate and academia. Within the social and political sciences academics have attempted to classify these organisations, trace their development in specific polities, and understand their role and impact on party politics and public policy.

Though important, this scholarship has overlooked two key areas of research. First, the wider literature tends to neglect how think-tanks conduct their daily activities and make knowledge claims (McLevey, 2014). Secondly, researchers have often failed to investigate intellectual life within think-tanks, and have tended to present a simplistic image of the expert-cum-political advisor, or the elite puppet (Medvetz, 2012). This is due, in part, to previous scholarship’s cursory appreciation of the interstitial location of think-tanks between academia, the media, business, and politics. As such, we concur with Plehwe’s observation that think-tanks remain “the most arcane and least understood” aspect of the policy-interest nexus (Plehwe, 2014, p. 108).

In response, this panel’s prime objective is to facilitate deeper reflections on the hybrid mode of intellectualism associated with think-tanks. Our session’s second objective is to stimulate research which focusses on the actual practices of think-tanks. Such an approach has invigorated research within the sociology of knowledge (Camic, Gross & Lamont, 2011), and we expect to encourage similar developments within the field of think-tank studies. Concomitantly, our third objective is to act as a hub for interdisciplinary learning, bringing together contributions from across the social and political sciences as well as science and technology studies.

Finally, this panel will make a significant contribution to the comparative study of knowledge regimes (Campbell & Pedersen, 2011). Think-tanks operate across the globe, yet the knowledge regime literature has tended to concentrate on a select group of Euro-American polities. This panel seeks contributions from the developing world alongside those from developed/Anglo-American studies. Secondly, the distinct focus on think-tanks and their intellectual practices in action is novel approach, as studies of regimes have predominantly taken a historical perspective. In sum, we aim to expand the scholarly understanding of knowledge regimes by illuminating how policy-knowledge actors, in this case think-tanks, navigate their institutional landscape, and how this landscape shapes their practice.



Camic, C., Gross, N., & Lamont, M. (2011). Social knowledge in the making. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press,.

Campbell, J., & Pedersen, O. (2011). Knowledge Regimes and Comparative Political Economy. In D. Béland & R. H. Cox (Eds.), Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research. Oxford University Press.

McLevey, J. (2014). Think Tanks, Funding, and the Politics of Policy Knowledge in Canada. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne de Sociologie, 51:1, 54–75.

Medvetz, T. (2012). Think tanks in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Plehwe, D. (2014). Think tank networks and the knowledge–interest nexus: the case of climate change. Critical Policy Studies, 8:1, 101–115.


Call for papers

Notoriously hard to define, the diverse and murky organisations referred to as think-tanks continue to be both significant and controversial actors in policy development across the globe. Interest in these groups stems from their institutional ambidexterity. At once a think-tank can be found to hold prominent positions within policy networks while seen to have dependencies on public, private, and third sector donors. Similarly, think-tanks might stress their relationships with academia and their alignment with political parties or ideological cliques within such groups. Hence, think-tanks are simultaneously referred to as case studies of benign knowledge brokers and smoke-screens for elite interests.

Irrespective of their scholarly or political dispositions, in order to achieve public legitimacy and policy relevance, think-tanks and their employees must continually perform professional competencies spanning academia, politics, media, and business. This raises the following questions:

The panel will address these questions by focussing on the practices of think-tanks and their staff. Specifically, we invite contributions which illuminate:

We encourage both theoretical and empirical submissions, studies which reflect upon specific organisations, networks or individuals, and will accept submissions about think-tanks from across the organisational and ideological spectrum. The panel does not have a specific regional focus, but we particularly encourage scholars with interests in think-tanks of the MENA, Latin American, or East Asian regions to submit.

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