The Conception and Socio-Cultural Attributes of the Frontier Territories
On September 20 Anna Nemirovskaya presented her collaborative project with Roberto Foa at the LCSR regular seminar
On September 20 the first regular seminar of the LCSR in new academic year was held in Saint Petersburg. Anna Nemirovskaya (PhD, Senior Research Fellow at LCSR) presented a report on “The Conception and Socio-Cultural Attributes of the Frontier Territories”.
The ‘Frontier Thesis’ was proposed in the late 19th century by American historian Frederic Turner, who explained the specific features of the development of the USA in terms of the interaction between settlers and the boundary of American settlements. The essence of Turner’s argument was that the origin of the distinctive egalitarian, democratic, aggressive, and innovative features of the American character was the American frontier experience. This view propounds that the frontier released Americans from European mindsets and customs in the 19th century.
In the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century there has been a revival of interest in the frontier thesis in the social sciences. Particularly, the concept of the frontier has been used to understand social processes in other countries which have had an experience of settlement similar to that of the US. The collaborative research presented during the seminar attempts to investigate the concept of the frontier in broad comparative perspective by using quantitative methodology.
The main aim of the project is to use data from the six waves of the World Values Surveys, along with a range of statistical sources, to show significant yet predictable differences among frontier regions in areas ranging from voluntary association, to civic activism, and to quality of institutions and political preferences.
Within the project, frontier zones are considered as essentially far flung regions in which most of the population are migrants, or the children of migrants, and in which areas, consequently, the institutions of public order such as the police, judiciary, local government and administration, are relatively young and newly formed.
The main hypothesis was that due to the structural conditions of the frontier life, there were three main socio-cultural attributes of the frontier zone observed across different countries, namely individualism, economic libertarianism, and greater reliance on social cooperation than on government. Multilevel regression analysis was used to test this claim. The research used data on four countries: the USA, Canada, Russia, and Brazil. But some models were extended by inclusion of other countries which may be considered as frontier states: Mexico, Australia, and Argentina.
The main results of the study are as follows. First of all, individualism, social cooperation, and economic libertarianism appear to be universal features of the frontier, and not simply a specificity of the United States. But it is interesting that while frontier regions have stronger ‘social’ institutions, they often have weaker governance and rule of law (higher homicide, corruption, poor public goods provision). Understanding this paradox is also at the centre of the current research program.
Another interesting finding is that frontier zones are in general more tolerant towards ascriptive attributes (e.g. race, migrant status) but not towards ‘lifestyle’ minorities (single mothers, homosexuals, drug addicts). This is consistent with the argument that frontier zones tend to be more individualistic and economically libertarian, but nevertheless, socially conservative.
The presentation was succeeded by a discussion in which both leading scholars of the Laboratory such as Christian Welzel, Ronald Inglehart, and Eduard Ponarin, and some visitors of the seminar from other HSE Laboratories, participated.
Those interested in the topic can read more about the study inthepaper working paper, which is on SSRN. It is also available on the LCSR website.