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Professor Patricia Thornton

Tutor in the Politics of China, Associate Professor of Chinese Politics




In the broadest possible sense, my research focuses on mapping the interactions—including institutions, practices and networks—between state and social forces 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 both by normative and normalizing goals, and 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 historical result has been a minimalist state that relies upon the intermittent mobilization of social forces to realize a range of ambitious goals. To produce Identity Matters: Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict (Berghahn, 2007), I worked with an international group of Fulbright New Century Scholars Program to analyse the relationships between collective identity and conflict through a variety of case studies.

My current research examines the continuing efforts of Chinese leaders to govern through the realm of culture, and to stimulate and shape market growth through the management of consumption. My recent publications concern 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) in the reform era. I have also written on and continue to research shifting modes of popular contention and related forms of collective action, and am particularly interested in the impact of the internet on the expression and organisation of dissent.

Teaching Interests

At the undergraduate level, I teach papers open to PPE and HP students, including Theory of Politics, and the Government and Politics of China. I also teach the graduate paper on Chinese politics, and supervise graduate students in the MPhil and DPhil in Politics (Comparative Government) programmes working on various aspects of the domestic politics of China.