The Theoretical and Empirical Contribution of the Interstitial Organizations to the Study of Power and Elites. Fobs, Think Tanks and Political Foundations

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Paola ARRIGONI, un, Italy
Lavinia BIFULCO, University of Milano Bicocca, Italy
The paper discusses the heuristic potential of interstitial organizations such as FOBs (banking foundations), US think thanks and German political foundations. These organizations share significant features:

  • They are interstitial space (Eyal, 2010) among different fields such as politics media, academic, business, financial, philanthropic fields (Dakowska, 2014; Medevetz, 2012).
  • They have a prominent decision-making role in issues of public concern without having a specific responsibility.
  • They are difficult to place because of their interstitiality that however seems to be a key to enlight central dynamics about power.

In the context of financialization and philanthrocapitalism two focuses seem relevant: the depoliticization dynamics associated with the rise of arenas and devices that "do politics without saying it”; the relationships between power and knowledge.

The paper focuses on Italian FOBs and their potential for theory building in the sociology of organizations also trying to shed light on affinities and divergences with US think tanks and German political foundations. Fobs are an exclusive Italian institution, born with the privatization of banks in the 1990s that separated financial and philanthropic activities. They appear to be real institutions of government, which influence public issues at local, national and (partially) international scale, and are fundamental places where political, economic and financial Italian elites meet and ‘mix’ together. In spite of that, little is known about how they act.

The first part of the paper introduces the theme of interstitial organizations. The second part analyses the three cases focusing in particular on the results of the study on Italian FOBs, carried out through an interpretive and socio-historical approach from the 1990s to the present day. In the third part, we discuss and argue how research paths coming from the analysis of interstitial organizations can contribute to studies on elites and power.