Think-tank researchers and the construction of intellectual credibility: A case study in the sociology of expertise

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Traditionally sociologists of knowledge have focused on experts and intellectuals found within established fields or professions. However, contemporary knowledge production often takes place beyond these bounded and relativity autonomous spheres (Stampnitzky, 2013). Think-tanks are an important example of this form of intellectual engagement.

Think-tanks and their researchers are located within an interstitial and ill-defined 'space between fields' (Eyal, 2011). This space is symbolically constituted, and also divided, by the worlds of science/academia, politics, bureaucracy, journalism and business (Medvetz, 2015). This is problematic for a think-tank researcher’s intellectual credibility, as they lack the recognised cultural and symbolic capital derived from being located within an established field. Despite this, think-tanks are seen as valuable and relevant intellectual contributors to public life – and sometimes more so than traditional academic social scientists (Misztal, 2012). The question arises, how do think-tanks gain intellectual credibility?

In this paper I present the findings of a mixed-method social network analysis of the intellectual life within British think-tanks, and explore how think-tank researchers construct ‘intellectual credibility’. I suggest that think-tank credibility is not a property or attribute of any profession, but emerges from a complex web of relationships across the established fields/professions they are located between. Think-tank researchers must engage in a complex ‘dance’ of positioning the symbols, capitals, and interests of a number of professions. Researchers must carefully stay in step with competing interests from different professions; at times aligning them, at other times blocking or obscuring them from one another, or risk losing their integrity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventEuropean Sociological Association Conference 2017 - Athens
Duration: 28 Aug 20171 Sept 2017


ConferenceEuropean Sociological Association Conference 2017


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