Sarah Thornton

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Not to be confused with Sara Thornton.
Photo by Idris Khan.

Sarah Thornton is a writer and sociologist of culture.[1] She has authored articles and books about dance clubs, raves, cultural hierarchies and subcultures. She now writes principally about art, artists and the art market. Thornton published a book about art's subcultures, Seven Days in the Art World.

Life and work[edit]

Thornton was born in Canada and resides in London. Her education comprises a BA in the History of Art from Concordia University, Montreal, and a PhD in the Sociology of Culture from Strathclyde University, Glasgow.[2] Her academic posts have included a full-time lecturership at the University of Sussex, and a period as Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. Thornton worked for one year as a brand planner in a London advertising agency.[3] She was the chief writer about contemporary art for The Economist.[4] Thornton has written about the contemporary art market and art world for publications including The Sunday Times Magazine,[5] The Art Newspaper[6],,[7] The New Yorker,[8] The Telegraph,[9] The Guardian,[10] and The New Statesman.[11]



  • Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Wesleyan University Press, 1996
  • Seven Days in the Art World. W. W. Norton & Company, 2008
  • 33 Artists in 3 Acts. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014

Club Cultures analyses the "hipness" of British rave culture and draws upon Pierre Bourdieu's theory of cultural capital. The study responds to earlier works such as Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style.

Local micro-media like flyers and listings are means by which club organizers bring the crowd together. Niche media like the music press construct subcultures as much as they document them. National mass media, such as tabloids, develop youth movements as much as they distort them. Contrary to youth subcultural ideologies, "subcultures" do not germinate from a seed and grow by force of their own energy into mysterious ‘movements’ only to be belatedly digested by the media. Rather, media and other culture industries are there and effective right from the start. They are central to the process of subcultural formation.[12]


The Subcultures Reader. Routledge, 1997

Critical reception[edit]

Her book Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital is described by Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson as "theoretically innovative" and "conceptually adventurous".[13]

The New York Times' Karen Rosenberg said that Seven Days in the Art World "was reported and written in a heated market, but it is poised to endure as a work of sociology...[Thornton] pushes her well-chosen subjects to explore the questions ‘What is an artist?’ and ‘What makes a work of art great?’”[14]

In the UK, Ben Lewis wrote in The Sunday Times that Seven Days was "a Robert Altmanesque panorama of...the most important cultural phenomenon of the last ten years”.[15] While Peter Aspden argued in the Financial Times that “[Thornton] does well to resist the temptation to draw any glib, overarching conclusions. There is more than enough in her rigorous, precise reportage… for the reader to make his or her own connections.”[16]

András Szántó reviewed Seven Days in the Art World: “Underneath [the book's] glossy surface lurks a sociologist’s concern for institutional narratives as well as the ethnographer’s conviction that entire social structures can be apprehended in seemingly frivolous patterns of speech or dress.”[17] In interview, R. J. Preece wrote, "I think Seven Days in the Art World might be the most important book on contemporary art of this time as it makes the art world more transparent, and might lead to reform."[18]

On July 26, 2011, Thornton successfully sued Lynn Barber and The Daily Telegraph for libel and malicious falsehood.[19] Mr Justice Tugendhat, the UK’s most senior media judge, referred to Ms Barber's review of Seven Days in the Art World as a wrongful "attack on Dr Thornton".[20][21] All three of the Telegraph′s attempts to appeal were denied.[22]

External links[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ 'Website of Sarah Thornton'. Retrieved 28 June 2009
  2. ^ McGlone, Jackie. (30 September 2008). 'Sarah Thornton-- Swimming in shark-infested waters'. The Scotsman. Retrieved 28 June 2009.
  3. ^ Thornton, Sarah (1991), Advertising is Good for You,Times Higher Education, Business and Management section, November 19th, 1999.
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  8. '^ Thornton, Sarah. (19 March 2007). 'Letter from London: Reality Art Show. The New Yorker. Retrieved 28 June 2009.
  9. ^ Thornton, Sarah. (3 October 2008). 'Is art the new gold?'. The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 June 2009.
  10. ^ Thornton, Sarah. (5 February 2012). [1].
  11. ^ Thornton, Sarah. (23 October 2008). 'Bye-bye to bling for billionaires'. New Statesman. Retrieved 28 June 2009.
  12. ^ Thornton, Sarah. (1996). Club Cultures : Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Hanover: University Press of New England, p. 117.
  13. ^ Hall, Stuart and Jefferson, Tony (Eds). (2006). Resistance Through Rituals (2nd ed.). Routledge: London, pp. xix-xx.
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  17. ^ Szántó, András (29 October 2008). 'Message in a bottle'. Art World Salon. Retrieved 28 June 2009.
  18. ^ Preece, R. J. (15 June 2009). "The Sociologist: Sarah Thornton and Seven Days in the Art World", Art, Design and Publicity. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  19. ^ "Telegraph in £65k payout over 'spiteful' Barber review", Press Gazette.
  20. ^ Sarah Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd, England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) Decisions, [2011] EWHC 1884 (QB) Case No: HQ09X02550, 26 July 2011.
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