Prof. Patricia M. Thornton
Associate Professor in the Politics of China, and Chair of the Sub-Faculty,
Department of Politics and International Relations,
Tutorial Fellow, Merton College
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 (Harvard, 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 (Berghahn, 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.
More recently, I have been interested in mapping the efforts of the Chinese state to govern through the realm of culture, and to manage consumption over time. I was awarded a 2011-12 British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to begin work on 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. Currently entitled Seeing Red: The People’s Cultural Revolution and China’s Crisis of Representation, the monograph is in preparation for submission in 2017. Along with Chris Berry (King's College) and Sun Peidong (Fudan University), I have co-edited a special issue of The China Quarterly (December 2016) that brought together some of the latest work by scholars in- and outside of the PRC in order to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. This compilation was also published as an edited volume, Red Shadows: Memories and Legacies of China's Cultural Revolution (Cambridge, 2016).
In addition, Vivienne Shue and I co-edited To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power (Cambridge, 2017), which draws together cutting-edge research on contemporary Chinese politics from an international team of specialists seeking to move beyond the prevailing paradigm of China's "authoritarian resilience." In our introduction, we offer our critique of existing work that hinges on the reified distinction between democratic and non-democratic "regime types," as well as of the neo-institutionalist foundations adaptive and resilient authoritarianism.
I have also 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 Department 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, 2015): "Enemies of the State or Friends of the ‘Harmonious Society’? Religious Groups and Collective Protests in Contemporary Rural China" (currently Lecturer in Chinese Studies, University of Western Australia)
- Kan Ching-yeung Karita (靳清揚) (DPhil, 2014): "Contesting Urban Futures: Mapping State-Society Relations in China's Urban Development" (currently Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)
- Xibai Xu (徐曦白) (current DPhil candidate in Politics) "Fragmented Authoritarianism, Selective Control and the Rise of Entrepreneurial Charity in China"
- Peng Chun (彭錞) (DPhil in Law, 2015) (co-supervision): "Taming the Dragon: Rural Land Acquisition and its Legal Reform in Modern China" (currently a post-doctoral fellow at Beijing University Law School)
- Yuen Wai Hei Samson (袁瑋熙) (DPhil in Politics, 2016): "Partners of Authoritarian Governance: The Politics of Community NGOs in China" (currently Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Lingnan University, Hong Kong)
- Sojeong Im (current DPhil candidate in Politics) (co-supervision)
- Shun-yan Olivia Cheung (current DPhil candidate in Politics)
- Lu Xiaoyu (current DPhil candidate in Politics)
- Rowan Alcock (current DPhil candidate in Politics)
- Jean Mittelstaedt (current DPhil candidate in Politics)