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Tom E. Fricke photo

Political Economy and Fertility: History, Culture, and Demographic Events in a Central Himalayan Village

Publication Abstract

Fricke, Tom E. "Political Economy and Fertility: History, Culture, and Demographic Events in a Central Himalayan Village." PSC Research Report No. 92-267. December 1992.

This article shows how more attention to political economy may bring additional value to the merger of anthropology and the understanding of demographic events in pre-transition settings. Most current anthropological treatments of the political economy of fertility have dealt with societies currently undergoing or already through a demographic transition and approach the transition in terms of class-differentiated processes or in terms of state-local relationships with respect to population policy. The author argues that many of the same political issues that color connections among local, regional, and national levels and which are linked to fertility transition in these other settings are also properly implicated in the variation that exists within natural fertility settings.

Using data from the Nepalese village of Timling, this article examines the demographic consequences of culturally motivated political strategies implied by relationships created and maintained by marriage within a natural fertility society. It explores the creation and maintainance of stratified groups as an outcome of historical patterns of migration buttressed by the needs of authority during the consolidation of the Napali state. After defining these groups, the authors demonstrate that the groups' members manipulate culturally given possibilities of marriage with a view to orchestrating advantages in the flow of obligations and labor.

The analyses in the paper show that social inequality and political economy structure demographic events in societies where kinship organizes social relations. Timling provides an example in which nascent state building bolstered local hierarchies even as their reproduction was made dependent on Nepal's bureaucratic system of resource extraction. This suggests that even "seamless" natural fertility settings have long histories of relationship with external political entities and that in societies lacking conscious strategies of fertility manipulation the timing of births may be an outcome of the interaction between encompassing state systems and internal, politically motivated strategies.

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