From 'network intellectuals' to 'networked intellectuals': a social network analysis of British think-tanks

Jordan Tchilingirian


From the traditional sociology of knowledge to the new research trends of ‘research on research’ and ‘science of science’, the study of knowledge production continues to focus upon intellectuals found within established fields or professions. However, contemporary knowledge production often takes place beyond these bounded and relativity autonomous spheres. The policy research and advocacy organisations known as ‘think-tanks’ are an important example of this form of intellectual engagement. To be ‘policy relevant’ intellectuals, think-tanks must produce knowledge that is amenable to multitude actors within the policy-knowledge nexus. This requires accessing and translating symbols and capitals from professions that span the fields of media, academia, business and politics. Though the intellectual hybridity of think-tanks well documented, there has been little research into the act of think-tank knowledge production. Instead, social and political scientists have sought define these organisations, chart the development of national ‘think-tank traditions’, or determine the role and impact of think-tanks on policy outcomes. When questions of knowledge production are asked, the think-tank is often presented as a ‘network intellectual’: a servant/ideologue of an established and narrow policy coalition. Privileging the goals of an elite clique erases the multitude of cross-professional alliances that must be engaged to produce policy-knowledge. In contrast, this paper presents a case study of British think-tanks that employs social network analysis and insights from positioning theory to develop a novel community-wide procedure to study the variety of alliances and resources think-tanks mobilise within the knowledge-policy nexus. Focusing on emergent networks, this paper examines the relational structure of the space of British think-tanks; maps the distribution of financial and ideational resources that are enrolled from across the knowledge-policy nexus; and identifies valued and powerful actors who fund, advise, and coordinate think-tank activities. In sum, this paper argues the scholarship on policy-knowledge production and think-tanks should reconsider its focus upon ‘network intellectuals’ and consider studying ‘networked intellectuals’.

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