Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Building Capacity for Alternative Knowledge: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Building Capacity for Alternative Knowledge: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Article excerpt


This article presents a case study of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) - the main left-oriented think tank of national scope in Canada. We first recount the development of the organization from 1980 to present, emphasizing the challenges it has faced in building capacity for alternative knowledge production and mobilization. We next locate the CCPA within its neighborhood of online communicative relations, which comprises a region of the broader political field in which neoliberalism has been hegemonic since the 1980s. Against this hegemony, the CCPA's project has been to expose the problems of neoliberalism, on the basis of applied research, and to advance a project of social-democratization by engaging with the general public and cultivating counterpublics in civil society. The emancipatory project motivating the CCPA has set it on a trajectory distinct from that of conventional think tanks, whose practices and networks facilitate elite policy-planning in and around the state.


Cet article présent une étude de cas du Centre Canadien de Politiques Alternatives (CCPA) - le groupe principal de réflexion de gauche d'envergure nationale au Canada. Premièrement, nous retracons les débuts de cette organisation depuis les années quatre-vingts jusqu'à présent. Nous mettons l'accent sur les défis dans le développement et la dissémination de connaissances alternatives. Puise, on localise le CCPA dans le contexte des relations de communication en ligne qui comprend un secteur du plus grand domaine politque dans lequel le néoliberalisme domine depuis les années quatre-vingt. En contre-partie de cette hégémonie, le projet de la CCPA a exposé les problèmes du néolibéralisme, en recherche appliquée, et fait progresser la socialdémocratie, en engageant le grand public et en encourageant les critiques de la société civile. Le projet galvinisateur du CCPA l'a amené dans une trajectoire differente de celle des groupes de réflexion conventionnels dont les practiques et les réseaux facilitent la planification de la politique de l'élite dans et autour de l'état.

Introduction: Think Tanks and the CCPA

Over the course of the twentieth century think tanks gained increasing importance in capitalist democracies as places where research and policy development could occur, independently of direct control by states and corporations. James McGann (2011) has identified 6480 currently extant think tanks, worldwide, 30% of which are in North America, although there is a great discrepancy between the number of think tanks in the US (1816) and the number in Canada (97).

As is well documented, think tanks have generally been funded by and inclined toward the principal propertied interests - the corporate sector - reflecting the structural power that resides in capitalist control of both productive economic enterprise and financial resources (Carroll 2004; cf. Brownlee 2005; Burris 2008; Domhoff 2014). Think tanks furnish 'a crucial infrastructure and increasingly professional transfer capacity for their class based constituencies' (Fischer and Plehwe 2013: paragraph 10), combining expertise in research, consulting, lobbying and advocacy, in a multifaceted practice of political and social 'knowledge shaping' (Bonds 2011). In Canada, Carroll and Shaw (2001) have traced the development of a 'neoliberal policy bloc', composed of several key policy-planning groups, whose boards of directors form a dense network of interlocks with each other and with the boards of the largest corporations in Canada.

Particularly significant has been the rise of 'advocacy think tanks' (Abelson 1995) such as Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, which have played influential roles in championing the neoliberal policy agenda 'market-driven politics' (Leys 2001). Neoliberalism is an evolving and variegated paradigm, yet at its centre is 'the project of imposing market-disciplinary regulatory forms' (Brenner et at 2009:183) upon political and social life - thus the priorization of free markets, privatized assets, the free flow of capital, 'consumer choice' and even the 'right to work', in preference to public programs, goods and investments, regulations on business, and the collective rights of workers. …

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