Janine R. Wedel, Professor, School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, George Mason University

Meet the New Influence Elites. How Top Players Sway Policy and Governing in the Twenty-First Century

A sea change over the past several decades has given birth to a new breed of influence elites and influence-wielding entities. These influence elites hold sway through informal, under-the-radar means, and use consulting firms, think tanks, grassroots organizations and other entities to influence policy, governing, and public opinion. They (as well as some of the organizational vehicles they employ) are less stable, less visible, more diversified, and more global in reach than their forebears.  The space they inhabit lies beyond formal authority, their influence based in large part on their position as intermediaries in social networks that operate in and among organizations.

The new influence-wielding practices are systemic and widespread, found in nearly all arenas, from health care and energy to finance and foreign policy. While how far and wide the influence elites and entities reach is, of course, an empirical question, they are well documented in the United States and parts of Europe, with many operating on a global plane and with some developments that nurture the new breed touching nearly everywhere.  Neither the players nor their practices fit the conventional concepts of influence wielding in contemporary democratic states and they are largely unaccountable by conventional means.  Thus new concepts and approaches are needed to understand and study the new influencers and reconfiguring of the organizational ecosystem. 

Janine R. Wedel is an anthropologist (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) and university professor in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University.  Her new book Unaccountable, published at the end of 2014, was named in Bloomberg’s survey of 2014 favorite reads.  Other publications include three award-winning and widely reviewed books (http://janinewedel.info/books.html): Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (2009); Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe (2001); and The Private Poland (1986). Winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, Wedel is also a four-time Fulbright fellow and recipient of awards from the National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, German Marshall Fund, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and Ford Foundation, among many others.

A public intellectual and featured columnist for The Huffington Post, Wedel also writes for outlets that include the New York Times, Financial Times, Foreign Policy, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal Europe, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. Her speaking venues range from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, MIT, Chicago, Berkeley, National Press Club, and the National Science Council to Oxford, Central European University (Budapest), Institute of Social Studies (the Hague), United Nations University (Helsinki), Freie Universität (Berlin), TEDx (Berlin), the Bruno Kreisky Institute (Vienna), Copenhagen Business School (Copenhagen), and the European Journalism Observatory (Lugano). Media appearances include BBC, Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CNN, PBS’s Frontline, C-Span, and NPR. Wedel is president of the Association for the Anthropology of Policy (ASAP), affiliated with the American Anthropological Association. 

Find out more about the Organisation cluster.