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Jeffrey Swindle photo

The Developmental Hierarchy Cultural Schema. Support for Conference Travel to Japan

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigator:   Jeffrey Swindle

Cultural models of development and of a developmental hierarchy of societies have powerfully shaped world history, providing motivation and justification for colonialism, religious evangelism, nationalism, foreign aid, and international policymaking. I analyze the level of prominence of the cultural model of a developmental hierarchy during the past three centuries. To do this, I use the largest text corpus available, the Google Ngram Database, to analyze the
frequency at which words and phrases indicative of this cultural model appeared in books. I find that such language permeated books throughout the past three centuries, but that the level of permeation varied substantially over time. Interestingly, the level of permeation within fiction books differed significantly from that of books in general, particularly in the twentieth century. In addition, the
popularity of certain developmental hierarchy terms changed during the middle of the twentieth century, as previously dominant terms (i.e. ‘savages’ and ‘civilized societies’) fell out of favor and a new set of terms (i.e. ‘developing’ and ‘developed countries’) rose in popularity. Thus, the cultural model of a developmental hierarchy was widespread among authors of books, and books were likely a key medium of diffusion for this model. However, during different
historical epochs and within particular types of books the cultural model of a developmental hierarchy fluctuated in prominence. More broadly, these findings imply that certain historical periods have been particularly critical in the pathdependent emergence of world culture.

Funding Period: 03/01/2014 to 02/28/2015

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