Over the past half-century, think tanks have become fixtures of American politics, supplying advice to presidents and policymakers, expert testimony on Capitol Hill,
Over the past half-century, think tanks have become fixtures of American politics, supplying advice to presidents and policymakers, expert testimony on Capitol Hill, and convenient facts and figures to journalists and media specialists. But what are think tanks? Who funds them? What kind of “research” do they produce? Where does their authority come from? And how did they become influential?
Thomas Medvetz argues that the think tank category developed in the U.S. starting in the 1960s as a formerly disparate array of research, rhetoric, and discussion groups that cohered into a relatively stable institutional niche but with an ambiguous, constitutively hybrid existence. On the one hand, they are situated at the nexus of the political, bureaucratic, economic, academic, and media fields. On the other hand, think tanks make up a field-like social space with its own logic, history, and interior structures. This image suggests that the power of think tanks derives partly from the act of valorizing certain forms and markers of social scientific authority over others.
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