Conference at the German Historical Institute Washington, May 2009
Heinrich Hartmann, FU Berlin, and Corinna R. Unger, GHI
“A WORLD OF POPULATIONS”: 20th CENTURY DEMOGRAPHIC DISCOURSES AND PRACTICES IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
In recent years, discourses about population and “overpopulation” have begun to receive growing attention within the historical profession. Whereas earlier studies tried to reconstruct historical demographic data and methods, current interest focuses on the political meaning of demography as a tool of modern governing, the construction of population as a means of consolidating political power and addressing trends like globalization, and the underlying social and cultural assumptions associated with thinking about population growth in specific areas of the world, especially in the colonies. Demography also counts as one of the most fruitful areas in which to observe the multifaceted relationship between expert knowledge, the public sphere, and politics. This is linked to the belief that population studies never were, and never could be, “apolitical,” since they always imply a hierarchy in the discourses and practices between the subjects (experts, institutions, media, etc.) and their demographic objects (social groups, ethnic minorities, colonies, etc.)
In short, demography is regarded as a field that mirrors many of Western societies’ perceptions of self and other, their efforts to deal with increasingly complex (both bureaucratic and spatial) requirements of governing and administrating at home and abroad, and their coming to terms with the challenges of accelerated globalization and, finally, the international order’s post-1945 changes.
Discourses about population growth gained urgency when the Cold War and decolonization coincided with and influenced each other, transcending traditional boundaries and creating new, transnational expert discourses. Under the umbrella of the postwar era’s geopolitical reconfigurations, the concepts of population and population growth gained global strategic relevance. “Population control” became a prominent element in the development programs propagated by Third World governments, First and Second World aid regimes, and international organizations. Simultaneously, the “organic” link between population and environment received increased attention when the environmental movement managed to imprint its influence on popular and academic discourses alike, encouraging a rediscovery of Malthusian thought.
In the proposed conference, we would like to discuss the following questions: 1. Can one speak of distinct national demographic cultures in the 20th century? If so, what were their characteristics, and how did different nations’ histories shape those cultures? Which impact did the colonial experience have in this regard? 2. Was there such a thing as a transatlantic demographic discourse in the twentieth century? If so, how did it develop and what did it look like? And what influence did it have on population politics? 3. How did the environmental movement, decolonization, development aid, and the Cold War influence the development of Western demographic thinking and research? Was there a direct continuity between colonial and postcolonial demographic research and practice, and in which ways did decolonization pose a challenge to traditional demography and its implications?
These and related questions shall be discussed in three panels:
I. Demography in Historical Context: Origins, Methodology, Institutions
II. Demographic Discourses: Malthusianism, Transition Theory, “Overpopulation”
III. Applied Demography: Population Policies and Politics, Population Control
Scholars interested in participating in the conference are asked to send an abstract (200 to 400 words, in English) and a short curriculum vitae to Bärbel Thomas (email@example.com) before October 31, 2008.
The conference will take place May 29 to 30, 2009, at the German Historical Institute Washington. The GHI will cover travel and accommodation expenses. The workshop will be held in English.
In order to facilitate scholarly interchange, participants will circulate their papers before the conference, and will give only very brief oral summaries. Final papers (12 to 15 pages, fully footnoted) are due April 27, 2009, and will be available to conference participants only.
Inquiries can be made to both conveners, Heinrich Hartmann (firstname.lastname@example.org and Corinna Unger (email@example.com).
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