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IACM 2023

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Neoliberals and Technocrats: How Coalitions, Conflict, and Social Science Combine To Formulate Public Policy and Shape Public Opinion

Think tanks reflect a form of organization melding a coalition of professionals from business, social science, government, and media to devise or influence policies at the local, state, federal and international level. Historical evidence of the impact of particular organizations on regulation, foreign policy, and social discourse is compelling. Systematic empirical investigation remains scant. Through Actor Network Theory (ANT) we first examine the social construction of this organization form and its development into a complex adaptive sociotechnical system for policy formation. Using a newly compiled database of U.S. organizations, we undertook social network analysis of interlocking directorates with text analysis of mission statements. We identified the scope, structure, and institutional logic of two distinct systems operating in this field. Media placements provided insight into channel access and utilization. The neoliberal thought collective promotes and translates social scientific research from neoclassical economics and related fields into policy and public opinion. The older technocratic system does this for behavioral science. Implications of this escalating “war of ideas” for social science and for policy practice are considered.

William Bottom
Washington University in St. Louis
United States

John Bechara
Tilburg University

Daisung Jang
Queensland University


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