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Culture Theory and Population Process: Toward a Thicker Demography

Publication Abstract

Fricke, Tom E. "Culture Theory and Population Process: Toward a Thicker Demography." PSC Research Report No. 95-335. 7 1995.

One of the most important developments in recent decades of demographic theorizing and practice is the recognition that much of the explanation for variation in demographic and family behaviors is not reducible to economic factors alone--that the explanation must also be attributed to subjective factors inhering in systems of meaning. This recognition permeates a wide range of work from historical studies of European transitions, to contemporary research in North America, to studies of demographic transition in non-Euro-American societies. While non-anthropological demographers have long recognized and been receptive to methods intended to capture information at these levels, they have been less likely to follow conceptual debates on the nature of culture. The predictable outcome is the antique feel of the uses to which cultural concepts are put by many contemporary demographers. More seriously, an inadequate definition of culture and its relationship to other levels of social analysis hinders research into the very motivational contexts of demographic behavior found to be so important.

In this report, the author continues a discussion most recently entered into by anthropologists such as Susan Greenhalgh and Eugene Hammel by arguing for the importance of culture as a contextual level analytically distinct from, yet related to, social and individual levels. This discussion begins by characterizing demography's current situation as one of "epistemological crisis" requiring a rethinking of fundamentals for solution. The author suggests some of the methodological implications of a conceptualization of social reality that joins the three levels of culture, society, and the individual and provides examples from research in Nepal.

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