Patricia H. Thornton is Grand Challenge Faculty and Professor of Sociology and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University. She is lead faculty for the development of the entrepreneurship minor in the College of Liberal Arts. She formally held positions in Sociology and at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University and Sociology at Stanford University. She has been a visiting scholar at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France and at Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University. She has been previously affiliated with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke University Fuqua School of Business and the Program on Organizations, Business, and the Economy in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University.
Her research interests include organization and management theory and innovation and entrepreneurship. She has received scholarly awards including the best paper award with Nancy Brandon Tuma by the Organization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management, the W. Richard Scott award with William Ocasio for the best research article by the Organizations, Occupations and Work section of American Sociological Association, and the George R. Terry, the highest award granted by the Academy of Management for outstanding contribution to management knowledge. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology in 1993 from Stanford University.
Her research and teaching interests focus on the areas of organization and management theory, innovation and entrepreneurship, and the social and cultural factors affecting entrepreneurship. She is a pioneer in developing the action learning approach leveraging practitioner-academic partnerships to teach entrepreneurship using live business plans, entrepreneurs, and investors. She developed the entrepreneurship course for the Markets and Management Program in Trinity College at Duke University (their college of liberal arts), and helped to build this program to an enrollment of 600 students.
Professor Thornton has written extensively on the topic of institutional theory and in particular how institutional logics affect individual and organizational attention and behavior. Her research with close colleagues William Ocasio and Michael Lounsbury is the basis of a key research paradigm, the institutional logics perspective, in management and other disciplines in the social and professional sciences, including, sociology, communications, entrepreneurship, strategy, marketing, public policy, non-profit management, construction management, and education.
Her Stanford University Press book, Markets from Culture (2004) examined the change in organizational decision making in higher education publishing firms during watershed changes in the institutional environment. It provided an early empirical and theoretical model of how organizational decisions are related to larger scale institutional transformations.
Her Oxford University Press book with William Ocasio and Michael Lounsbury, The Institutional Logics Perspective, further builds on earlier research to understand how institutions affect individual and organizational behavior. It addresses fundamental questions in understanding the workings of supra-individual entities like organizations, industries, societies and global social systems. It provides a theoretical framework for studying why people behave as they do within various social and cultural contexts, the workplace, the market, the battlefield, the dinner table.
Patricia has served in professional consulting capacities including as an expert witness on mergers and acquisitions in the higher education publishing markets to the U.S. Department of Justice. She co-founded and wrote the original business plan to raise seed funding for Interim Inc., a successful non-profit organization providing transitional and assisted living facilities and services to individuals with mental health disabilities.
Patricia is an advocate of improving university research by increasing its benefits to society through deepening engagement with external partners. Her current research includes among other projects how cultural knowledge affects the discovery and development of entrepreneurial opportunities, how financial crises affect the perception of entrepreneurial intentions and behavior, and how the organization and timing of investor syndication affects portfolio company performance. She is raising funds to support examining the proposition that entrepreneurship is a solution to social and economic inequality, including the macro factors that promote and suppress entrepreneurial activity and economic development.
Most importantly, Patricia was the lead author of the white paper to advocate that entrepreneurship education be made available to all interested students at Texas A&M University. In line with her work on action learning she is working to develop academic-industry partnerships and resources and to unify intercollegiate innovation and entrepreneurship faculty, student constituencies, and programmatic efforts.