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Working paper

Internal Empires I: Social Institutions of the Frontier

Foa R., Nemirovskaya A., Mostovova E.
One of the attributes most consistently highlighted in the literature on frontier society is the tendency to spontaneous social organisation. However, despite the resilience of the ‘frontier thesis’ within sociology and political science, it has not been subject to a rigorous empirical examination. Does it constitute a description of the social norms and institution of the western United States, or is it one manifestation of a more general ‘frontier phenomenon’, found in other times and places? In order to answer these questions, this article examines data on the nature of social relations in frontier zones in four countries: Brazil, Russia, Canada and the United States. Taking a wide range of survey items, we find that higher levels of voluntary activity, social trust, tolerance of outgroups, and civic protest are distinctive features of frontier life, and not simply a feature of the American historical experience.