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Swedish Think Tanks: Between Knowledge and Ideology

Academic knowledge and expertise play important roles in policymaking today and are often used as political tools to lend academic legitimacy to political and/or ideological claims. While this is not new, recent decades have witnessed a significant increase in the number of organisations that seek to influence policy by producing research and using it as leverage in the public debate. This project focuses Swedish think tanks whose mission includes both research and policymaking and thus harbours the conflicting institutional logics of knowledge production and ideology production.

Background and research questions:

Theoretically, neo-institutional organizational theory and the concepts of institutional work and institutional logics are used. Empirically, the focus is Swedish think tanks, which encompass academic research and political advocacy and thus the two seemingly distinct institutional logics of knowledge production and ideology production.

The study examines:

  • The individual actors who (re)produce and/or challenge the respective logics in the organizations:
  • The intra-organizational arenas where this takes place;
  • The tools, strategies and methods employed by the individual actors in that context.

The project contributes to theory on institutional work; to our understanding of how individual actors manage conflicting institutional logics and affect institutions; and to our understanding of think tanks as political actors. 

Research approach:

These questions have been studied through an extensive mapping survey covering the Swedish think tank population with interviews with managers in combination with studies of relevant documents. This overview study was then followed by in depth case studies where the boards, managers and employees of four prominent Swedish think tanks were interviewed.

Key findings:

The proliferation of Swedish think tanks during the last 20 years is closely linked to the transformation of Swedish civil society structures and of systems of interest representation, and that think tanks should analytically be understood as the allies of the older, established forces in civil society. Read more in this article.

Further information:

The project has been funded by Ragnar Söderbergs stiftelse.

Read more about the project on ResearchGate.

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