Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Colin Woodward's Eleven "States" of The Americas

For those who wonder why politics is so fractious in the United States, here is a map that does go some way to explaining how hard it is for a President and Congress to agree to a consensus on the role of government in health care law, or  issues such as immigration, abortion, gay rights, taxes for large corporations, income inequality, et al.   Indeed  the very nature of government itself is a controversial topic in the USA more so than I think you'll will find in most post-industrial nations. To understand an event like a mass shooting in one part of America, one needs to reflect on how the majority of citizens in each region view the role of guns and regulations on them. It is rooted in a past that may or may not be resentful of what is viewed as outside agitation or overbearing authority.

“To understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns and the lasting cultural fissures they established.”--Colin Woodward

Here's link to an article in Market Watch which provides more information to Colin Woodward recent book,  and a follow-up  article in a Tufts University (Massachusetts) magazine. It gives a sketch of the 11 "nations" and how he believes they got that way.

The first thing you have to do is throw out the  state borders.  As a resident of the state Oregon who has lived  in both the Far West and Left Coast areas I can say there is a definite shift in political and even cultural hegemony when you cross over the Cascade Mountains that cut across the state from North to South. The Left Coast has its share of conservatism, but the Portland-Eugene-Salem metro areas are more in tune with the voters in "Yankeedom",  the liberal-to-moderate New England/East Coast,  3,000 miles apart.  Whereas if you are visiting places such as Klamath Falls and Bend Oregon on the "Far West" part of the same state you may feel you are closer to the more rural and conservative (and clannish) areas of the Rocky Mountain and Upper Midwest states.       Folks in San Francisco and Los Angeles are more alike than some citizens who live closer in a geographical proximity to the respective cities in the Sacramento-Stockton part of the Central Valley, but there are differences (i.e.,  more of a Hispanic cultural force to the South, from the proximity to Mexico.)

Indeed the whole issue of international boundaries is less of a help  on both North and South  Borders. One living in Portland or Seattle and the liberal arts college and university towns to the south may well feel more akin to the politics of Vancouver, British Columbia, than to the eastern areas of the same state in the same nation. And surely many residents states like Idaho and Montana feel closer to the mining and ranching reaches of the Canadian  Rocky Mountain provinces like Alberta than to the "Left Coast".

The American way of life will likely become more fractured if present trends in population diversity and income inequality spread. Our politicians will continue to try and "ride two horses" (or maybe three) at once in the great "Circus Maximus" that is the national arena.  And more lucky pols some will just have to make one of these regions happy, and others (like the Obama Administration or any President afterward) will have to try to make the most of what little commonality there is on economic and social issues across the continent.

  The institutions that thrive in this environment are not political, I would say, but rather  the large international banking giants and the resource industries (oil, natural gas, shale, tar sands )  and those who make military hardware. The upper tiers of business  likely have long accepted that the lines on a political map of North America are often just that----lines, and, allowing for some exceptions within these regions, more indicative of the nation than any official boundaries.  


  1. An interesting way of breaking America down into component parts as we attempt to make sense of the subcontinent and the global entity that is the United States. I think the degree of political integration within the predominently Enlish speaking parts of the North American Union also means that Canada is the 12th nation, but undoubtedly that can also be subdivied between the Celtic/French Maritimes, the vast spaces between them and the Rockies and across the Great divide to the Lotus Eaters basking in temperate climes on the West Coast and even a bit of desert at Osoyoos. But of course the Canadians are tied up with the British whose Queen remains head of state and so this Anglospherical cultural analysis could be said to take in the British Isles as well including the Republic of Ireland. From that perspective there is not only the 11 nations of the USA but numerous other subdivision of the Atlanticist Anglosphere and a constant interaction between each part of it I think Doug....and then there is the Oceanic antipodean flank too which means that the US cannot in my view really concieve of itself as a discreet national entity or even 11 discreet national entities for that matter. The notion that America comprises of these seperate socio-cultural groupings helps to explain some things I think Doug... but I wonder if it may also help to obscure some other things, particularly America's joined-up-ness with the rest of the world and especially the English speaking world. I wonder if it could be seen as a new version of exceptionalism that comprises 11 seperate exceptional qualities many of which are incompatable? As you know I am a supporter of devolution and welcome what could be seen as a step in that direction, providing these collective personas don't become self fulfilling prophesies that ignores the diversity and the capacity for novelty in any and every situation. Interesting perspective Doug thanks for sharing it.

  2. You raise many good points, AA. In particular I like the warning you place on placing too much emphasis on regionalism above the leavening influences of "diversity and novelty". Many people from the US to England, Canada, New Zealand I believe are much more cosmopolitan then these artificial borders suggest. None of us should feel ot bound by the surrounding political and economic hegemony, nor the latitude and longitude of our respective homes. I personally feel much more integrated with friends in distant places, and with ordinary people I have conversed with like yourself on the computer across the seas, or even people whose books and articles I've read. Surely there are many across borders and ocean depths who feel the same way. Thanks for your thoughts so well expressed here and my apologies for not answering sooner.