Contemporary U.S. culture has a highly individualistic ethos. Nevertheless, exactly how this ethos was historically fostered remains unanalyzed. A new model of dynamic cultural change maintains that sparsely populated, novel environments that impose major threats to survival, such as the Western frontier in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, breed strong values of independence, which in turn guide the production of new practices that encourage self-promotion and focused, competitive work. Faced with few significant threats to survival, residents in traditional areas are likely to seek social prestige by adopting existing practices of other, higher status groups. Because of both the massive economic success of the frontier and the official endorsement of the frontier by the federal government, eastern residents of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries may have actively adopted the frontier practices of independence, thus incorporating the frontier ethos of independence to form the contemporary U.S. national culture. Available evidence is reviewed, and implications for further research on cultural change are suggested.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/victoria_plaut/18/