Dr. Patricia M. Thornton
Associate Professor in the Politics of China,
Department of Politics and International Relations,
Tutorial Fellow, Merton College
B.A., Swarthmore College
M.A., University of Washington, Seattle
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
My research centers on the interactions between state and social forces-- including institutions, practices and networks— in China over time. In Disciplining the State: Virtue, Violence and State-making in Modern China (2007), I argued that the process of state-making in China has been driven by normative and normalizing goals, aiming not only to impose a particular moral order on society, but also to make the presence of the state at the center of that totalizing vision appear both natural and necessary. At the same time, in the Chinese case, periodic expansions of the state apparatus were curbed by a conservative calculus that weighed incremental increases in the size and scope of the administration against the projected costs required to support it. The result has been a minimalist state that relies upon the intermittent mobilization of social forces to realize a range of ambitious goals. For Identity Matters: Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict (2007), a cross-disciplinary volume that I co-edited, I worked with an international group of Fulbright New Century Scholars seeking to, in the words of Charles Tilly, “get identity right” by exploring the relationships between collective identity and conflict through a variety of case studies.
My current research examines the efforts of the Chinese state to govern through the realm of culture, and to manage consumption over time. I was awareded a 2011-12 British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to begin work on two manuscripts: one, a monograph on the enduring impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the political transformation of the Chinese Communist Party, and the rise of the New Left; and a second monograph on state policies of cultural transformation from the late Mao era to the present. The former, currently entitled Seeing Red: The People’s Cultural Revolution and China’s Crisis of Representation, is in the final stages of preparation for submission in December 2013. In addition, Vivienne Shue and I are completing work on a co-edited volume, building upon a 2012 conference held at the University of Oxford, with the working title, Power in the Making: Governing and ‘Being Governed’ in Contemporary China.
I have recently published articles on grassroots Party-building in the non-publicly owned sector of the economy and among NGOs, contemporary urban geographies of power and consumption in Beijing, and the shifting practices of "making public opinion" (造舆论) under reform (see Selected Publications for detailed abstracts and links). In 2010, I was awarded a British Academy Small Research Grant for “Knots of Ungovernability: Mapping Popular Protest in China Across Space and Time,” for which I developed a set of animated time-series maps using GIS [Geographic Information Systems] software to record patterns of clustering and diffusion for incidents of collective unrest. I continue to research urban geographies and practices of power in China, the problem of representation in authoritarian regimes, and the challenge posed by exceptionalism to comparative politics and comparative research.
Teaching and Supervision
Undergraduate: PPE 227 Politics of China
Graduate: The Politics and Government of a Major State: The People's Republic of China
Some of my past and current post-graduate students in the Department of Politics researching the domestic politics of the PRC include:
If you are a prospective post-graduate student interested in learning more about post-graduate study in the Deparment of Politics (MPhil/DPhil), this page describes the range of programmes available, and the applications process. International students applying from outside of the UK can find additional information on the application process here, including information on the University's English language requirements for post-graduate study. The Department also maintains a "Graduate Study e-Brochure" with useful information. If you are interested in conducting research on a topic related to Chinese domestic politics, you are welcome to list me as a potential supervisor (there is no need to contact me in advance of your application).
Siu Yau Lee (
)(DPhil, 2013): "Explaining Institutional Changes in Authoritarian States: Language Management and Resistance in Contemporary China" (currently Assistant Professor, Department of Asian and Policy Studies, Hong Kong Institute of Education)
Yu Tao (陶郁) (DPhil candidate in Politics): "Enemies of the State or Friends of the ‘Harmonious Society’? Religious Groups and Collective Protests in Contemporary Rural China"
Karita Kan (DPhil candidate in Politics): "Contesting Urban Futures: Mapping State-Society Relations in China's Urban Development"
Xibai Xu (徐曦白) (DPhil candidate in Politics) "Fragmented Authoritarianism, Selective Control and the Rise of Entrepreneurial Charity in China"
Peng Chun (DPhil candidate in Law) (co-supervision): "Training the Dragon: Rural Land Acquisition and its Legal Reform in Modern China"
Verity Robins (DPhil candidate in Politics): "Elderly Activism and the Shadow of Mao: Mobilization and Repertoires of Contention in Contemporary China"
Samson Yuen (DPhil candidate in Politics)
Sojeong Im (DPhil candidate in Politics) (co-supervision)
Shun-yan Olivia Cheung (MPhil candidate in Politics): "The Patriotic Education Campaign in Beijing and Chongqing from 1991 to 2012"