Think tanks became key political and economic actors during the twentieth century, creating and occupying an intellectual and political position between academic institutions, the state, civil society, and public debate on organization and management. Think tanks are especially active in setting frames for what constitutes politically and socially acceptable ways of thinking about economic activity and the rights or obligations of corporations. Their operation and influence has been acknowledged and analysed in political science and policy analysis, but in organization and management studies they are almost entirely ignored. In this paper, we review the existing literature on think tanks to develop an ethical–political framework based on a Gramsci’s account of state–civil society relations, referring to historical case materials relating to a significant Brazilian think tank, the Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Sociais (IPES). We show how the IPES was successful in bringing then-controversial neoliberal perspectives on management and organization into mainstream political debate, where they could be discussed and ultimately accepted as morally and intellectually legitimate. We note the importance of management education and business schools with respect to think tanks in the development of a hegemonic pro-capitalist interpretation of corporate responsibility, and suggest this is worth more investigation. We conclude by outlining how think tanks are central to civil society acceptance of pro-corporate ideologies, how they might be researched regarding the ethical implications of the work they do, and how our approach provides a foundation for this.
- Think tanks