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Cultural Legacies: Persistence and Transmission. Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Ukraine

Cultural Legacies: Persistence and Transmission. Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Ukraine

Leonid Peisakhin
April 17, 2017 -
11:30am to 1:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)
Event Speaker: 
Leonid Peisakhin, Assistant Professor of Political Science, New York University- Abu Dhabi

It is well established that institutions evolve in a path dependent manner, yet in this paper I show that certain types of formal institutions leave a cultural legacy by creating political attitudes and behaviors that can persist for a surprisingly long time even in the face of hostile material and institutional environments. Making use of a natural experiment of history, a partition of a homogenous population of ethnic Ukrainians between Austrian and Russian empires, I demonstrate how differences in political identities that came about as a result of a historical accident have persisted over the course of several centuries. I record contemporary differences in political attitudes and behaviors in a survey of over 1,600 individuals residing in settlements that are located within 15 miles of a long-defunct Austrian-Russian imperial border. Residents of the two survey strata differ primarily on attitudes toward Russia, historically the key issue of contention in the region. The paper also explores the importance of families and schools to the processes of identity transmission. 


Leonard Pesaikhin is interested in political legacies of colonial and imperial rule especially in eastern Europe. He studies formation, persistence, and dissolution of political attitudes and identities, and has a broad interest in political behavior. He also maintains an interest in anti-corruption research, work on good governance, and government transparency. 

He is currently finishing a book project on the persistence of imperial-era political identities in Ukraine, some of which are at the root of the ongoing conflict over Ukraine’s statehood and future political trajectory. The book contributes to the fledgling research agenda on cultural legacies of historical institutions and revisits theoretical insights from the literature on political socialization. This project draws on a natural experiment of history that divided a homogenous population of ethnic Ukrainians between Russian and Austrian empires. 

Almost all of his research combines multiple methods including experiments, archival research, surveys, and ethnography. Although he is particularly interested in Russian, post-Soviet, and European politics, his research is first and foremost question-driven, and he has done fieldwork in China and India. In addition to his core research agenda on historical legacies he is also currently working on projects on formation of political loyalties in early Communist China, intergenerational transmission of victim status among Crimean Tatars, and the influence of Russian state TV in Ukraine. 

His work has appeared in the Journal of Law and Economic and Regulation and Governance.  He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University, and in 2011-2014 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Juan March Institute in Madrid. His dissertation won the 2014 Juan Linz Best Dissertation Prize from APSA’s Comparative Democratization section.