A common problem in young disciplines of Social Sciences, like the study of the construction of political discourse is that scholars and researchers do not agree in the basics. Comparing to Experimental Sciences, Philosophy or Humanities, more recent academic areas lack of normative theory. And the main difficulty I have found is that the situation is not changing. After decades of study and research, many times we see Academia do not share the same concepts of fundamental elements.
Obviously, it also happens with the study of think tanks. The systematic research on think tank environment is so young and a first question to discuss is the definition of what is and what is not a think tank. To me, the key is to follow the principles that guide the first founders of think tank projects: ideological independence, scientific method, philanthropy and democratic discourse. Not so many of the institutes named think tank cope with these features. I understand it is a difficult task as think tanks work in the political scene, where power relationships are the main factor. Sometimes, this is not compatible with the democratic discourse, even when political system where think tanks operate is a democracy.
Academics have offered several taxonomies to the global think tank system. One of the categories is that of Political Party Think Tanks. It describes those organizations which are legally dependent on political parties and act as factories of ideas for the election programmes and spaces of promotion of future political managers in Government. The fact is that most of them do not fit in the characteristics I mentioned above, with the exception of democratic discourse (and not all of them). Generally, their research is so biased by the ideological profile of the party, the power relationships of the moment and the need all parties have to become a perfect machine of winning elections. It means that polls play an important role in the research agendas of these ‘think tanks’.
This superficial reflection is an introduction to the recent born of new Spanish political party think tank, the Fundación Ideas, promoted by the Socialist Party to fight in the public discourse arena with the Popular Party organization, the Fundación Faes. I will discuss the matter in the following post.
I disagree. Think tanks are different in different countries and regions. Their relation to political parties, if anything, is quite natural. This has been a common feature of US and British think tanks fro much of the 20th Century.
Rather than worry too much about their allegiance, just make sure that this is well known.
Thanks for your comment, Enrique. I agree it is difficult to share a common idea of what is a think tank. Could we establish differences between think tanks an pure lobbying organizations? What does mean to be independent? Is a think tank able to defend a public policy which is far from its core ideology if this policy is supported by research?
Hi, I’ve added a few comments and ideas related to this on: http://onthinktanks.wordpress.com I think that rather than defining them by what they are or how they look or what they are not, you might find easier -and more useful- to think about them in terms of their functions within different social, political and economic spaces.