Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Three Types of Denial: Think Tanks as a Reluctant Civil Society Elite

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Abstract:  Think tanks, or policy advice institutions, are civil society organizations producing and delivering social analysis to policymakers and the wider public. Their aim is to influence policy in a given direction. Compared to most other civil society organizations, they hold relatively privileged positions, both in terms of wealth (on average bigger budgets and staffs), political influence (their very raison d’être), knowledge (educational level of the staff), and social networks. Thus, it seems beyond dispute that think tanks adhere to the elite of civil society. This article focuses on think tanks’ negative self-identification, on their reluctance to accept labels. Not only are think tanks unwilling to take on the elite designation, some of them also deny being part of civil society, and some go one step further in denying identification with the think tank community. These multiple denials are expected if we recall Pierre Bourdieu’s observation that “all aristocracies define themselves as being beyond all definition” (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 316). The analysis focuses on how this definitional ambiguity is discursively constructed. Think-tankers are often described as situated in an interstitial space between such fields as politics, civil society, media, market, and academia. While this intermediary position is the source of their unique role as converters of various forms of capital, it also complicates the identity formation of think tanks. The argument is illustrated by Polish think tanks and the data consists of original interviews with think tank leaders. The article provides a novel perspective on think tanks and on civil society elites.

Keywords:  Bourdieu; civil society; elite; Poland; think tanks



© Katarzyna Jezierska. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.