Call for papers: Think tanks in action: a comparative perspective

On Think Tanks is looking for paper to include in a panel at the  International Public Policy Association Singapore 2017 Conference.

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panels

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. + 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. + 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.+

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,+ 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.+ 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.

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:

  • How do think-tanks perform this hybrid intellectualism?
  • How do they create knowledge?
  • How might differing national contexts with their particular media, political, business, and academic ecologies influence these activities?

The panel at the 3rd International Public Policy Association Singapore 2017 Conference will address these questions by focussing on the practices of think-tanks and their staff. Specifically, we invite contributions which illuminate:

  • the construction, maintenance, and deployment of interpersonal/inter-organisational networks from across the policy-knowledge-media-business nexus
  • the processes and politics of knowledge production including, fundraising and research dissemination
  • the rhetorical strategies which are devised and enacted through a think-tank’s public and/or private interventions

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.

How to join the panel?

To propose a paper for the 3rd IPPA, you need to find the relevant panel you are interested in: T07P13 – Think-tanks in Action: A Comparative Perspective and register your proposal. You need to:

  1. Create and/or to log in to your account
  2. Select the panel for which you want to submit:  T07P13
  3. Enter the name of co-authors if need (each co-author must be registered first)
  4. Enter a title and an abstract of your proposal (500 words max.)

The selection process will be organised from 15th January to 15th February. You will receive an answer at the end.