Unlike traditional frontier studies that treat the frontier as monolithic and focus on core-periphery interactions involving colonialism and acculturation, this dissertation seeks to characterize the internal social dynamics of frontier regions using the collective social identification framework. Concentrating on the intraregional and intrasite scales makes it possible to directly evaluate the bottom-up processes involved in the formation of collective social identities within frontier zones (i.e., sociopolitical development divorced from core-centric actions). Derived from social science research aimed at understanding the development of modern nation-states and social movements, the theoretical framework implemented in this research centers on the idea that sustained collective action depends on the degree to which groups of individuals share networks of social interaction (i.e., relational identification) and recognize membership in the same social categories (i.e. categorical identification). Applying this model to the site of La Quemada, Zacatecas, Mexico, provides a methodology for assessing the potential for collective action through time and across spatial scales based on the degree of categorical commonality or the strength of relational connections among the site’s inhabitants.
Dating to the Epiclassic period (600-900 CE), La Quemada was founded during the cultural florescence of the northern frontier of Mesoamerica, but the site was abandoned ca. 800-900 CE while other polities persisted. Therefore, it is hypothesized that a change in how the occupants of La Quemada identified with one another decreased the potential for collective action over time and contributed to site abandonment. Material proxies in the form of ceramic-style categories (i.e., shared styles expressing categorical affiliation) and fabric classes (i.e., shared pastes indicative of relational networks) are used to assess the temporal and spatial consistency of social identification at multiple socio-spatial scales within the site of La Quemada. The results of this research, however, find that despite fluctuations in the expression of categorical identification among La Quemada residents it was the strength of their relational ties that gave them the capacity to recover. Furthermore, the capacity for collective action was high preceding site abandonment, suggesting that a disruption in the social fabric of La Quemada did not contribute to its decline and abandonment.