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Prediction and Control: Global Population, Population Science, and Population Politics in the Twentieth Century

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigator:   Emily Merchant

The twentieth century was a momentous one for the world’s population: it increased more rapidly than it ever had before, became the subject of a new science, and became a target of intervention for governments, intergovernmental agencies, and philanthropic organizations. This project documents the intertwined histories of global population, population science, and population politics from 1920 to 2010, focusing on population projections – estimates of future size and structure – to examine the mutual relationships between these three domains. Using archival research and content analysis of key publications, it will ask how population change stimulated the emergence of demography, how demography informed population politics, how population politics directed the development of demography, and how demography, through population policy, shaped population growth.

The project treats population projections as boundary objects, a critical interface between population, population science, and population politics that allowed scientists and policy makers to work together without necessarily agreeing on the terms of analysis or goals of intervention, and suggests that population projections have often aimed not just to estimate future population dynamics, but to influence them via the programs they inspire and justify.

Funding Period: 11/01/2012 to 12/31/2013

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