Dealing with dirty cash: How think-tank intellectuals purify their funding networks

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Think-tanks are prominent actors within contemporary policy research. Think-tanks are situated in a 'space between fields', and draw upon practices from more stable fields of politics, media, academia, and business in producing policy-relevant knowledge. This requires building relationships across and within each field, but problems can arise when think-tanks become overly dependent on any one field. No relationship is more complex and problematic than those with their funders. Though vital, these connections can become sources of pollution – dirty money can produce compromised research. How do think-tanks overcome this inherent tension in their work?

Drawing on my mixed method social and personal network analysis of the funding relationships of British think-tanks, I use positioning theory to elucidate how think-tanks actively regulate potential pollution from funders. I suggest think-tanks employ several 'purification strategies', which arise from the personal and organisational networks they have that span the policy-knowledge nexus. Exploiting opportunities presented from their structural marginality, think-tanks attempt to neutralise the symbolic and direct influence of funders by enrolling a diverse network of allies.

This paper represents a distinct break from traditional social scientific reflections on the relationship between think-tanks and funders which hold a priori assumptions about the intellectual labour and credibility of these organisations. More critical scholars presume a unidirectional flow of influence from funder to recipient; more sympathetic accounts underplay these interactions. So far sociologists have not been able to offer a systematic examination how think-tanks manage funding relationships; this paper seeks to address this gap.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventBritish Sociological Association Annual Conference 2017 - University of Manchester, Manchester, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Apr 20176 Apr 2017


ConferenceBritish Sociological Association Annual Conference 2017
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom


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