Mobility and Mobilisation: Railways and the Spread of Social Movements
How does transportation infrastructure shape the diffusion of social movements? What is the role of social contagion in this relationship? In this paper, I take a crucial episode from Swedish history to answer these questions. During the thirty-year period 1881-1910, Swedish society underwent two transformative developments: the large-scale roll-out of a national railway network and the nascence of social movements which came to dominate social and political spheres well into the twentieth century. Using event-study and instrumental variables methodologies, I document the causal impact of proximity to the newly constructed railway network on the spread and growth of membership in these social movements. Railway access impacted their diffusion on both intensive and extensive margins: well-connected municipalities were more likely to host a local movement organisation, and saw more rapid growth of membership per capita. I implement a market access framework to uncover the mechanisms underlying this result: by reducing least-cost distances between municipalities, railways intensified the influence exerted by neighbouring concentrations of membership, thereby enabling social contagion. I explore the interrelationships between movement types, and show that railway access reduced levels of strategic substitutability between different groups.
Creating ‘Us and Them’: Racial Propaganda, Insularity and Right-Wing Ideology
What determines the efficacy of identity-based propaganda, and how long-lasting are its effects? To shed light on these questions, I study the impact of the Swedish State Institute for Race Biology’s popularisation of race biology on right-wing ideology in the short and long run. In a popular book edition of its systematic classification of the Swedish population according to “Nordic purity”, the Institute identified particularly “pure” areas of the country. Implementing a differences-in-differences strategy, I document the effect of the publication on right-wing ideology: following the publication, election districts of above-median “Swedishness” exhibit a 3.4 percentage point relative increase in the vote share of right-wing parties. This effect is concentrated in areas with little immigration, suggesting that insular communities may be particularly susceptible to this type of racial rhetoric. Using data on library funding as a proxy for the accessibility of the book, I show that districts with good access drive the results. Media is critical in propagating the effect: the “Swedishness” effect is present only in regions with high levels of exposure to race-biological news media. I corroborate my findings with data on the complete incoming correspondence of the Institute, showing that above-median “Swedish” regions become more directly involved with the Institute after the publication of the book. Finally, the rightward turn appears to persist over time: present-day municipalities in formerly above-median “Swedish” regions exhibit a higher relative vote share for the Sweden Democrats, a populist party with roots in the extreme right.