Frontier Settlement and the Spatial Variation of Civic Institutions
This article considers the “territoriality” of civic institutions. Is the “frontier thesis” – according to which areas of new settlement exhibit higher levels of individualism, political activism, and civic organisation – a description only of the western United States, or is it a manifestation of a more generalisable phenomenon found in other global frontier regions? In order to do this, we examine data on the nature of civic institutions in frontier zones in four countries: Brazil, Russia, Canada and the USA. Taking a wide range of survey items, we find that voluntary activity, social trust, tolerance of outgroups, and civic protest are not unique to the American historical experience, but generalised legacies of frontier life. We suggest that the experience of settlement is conducive to the formation of norms of community solidarity and cooperation, and this observation should encourage a new wave of comparative frontier studies.