Socialist Experts and the Population-Development Debate (1960s-1970s)

by Corina Doboș

at the panel Global Institutions and the East-South Circulation of Knowledge, the Fifth European Congress on World and Global History (Budapest, 31 August – 3 September, 2017)

Abstract

Most of the literature dedicated to the emergence of ‘population’ as an object of scientific research and governmental intervention in the 1960s-1970s focuses on the Global South’s overpopulation and on the ‘challenges’ this process brought to the social and economic development of the region. This dominant narrative reflects the epistemological and historical conditions of the post-war institutionalization of demography.

Not much discursive space is left for alternative, regionally defined, population ‘problems’. Europe’s, both East and West, specific population issues (e.g., aging or decreasing birth-rates) are hardly addressed. By using Romanian and French archival sources and new readings of mostly French-based demographic literature, my presentation seeks to fill in this gap. It explores the socialist experts’ views on the population concerns and solutions discussed in Europe across the Iron Curtain.

The history of population sciences in Eastern Europe and the USSR is characterized by tumultuous political and social contexts determined by international debates and domestic circumstances. I argue that the development and institutionalization of population sciences in Eastern Europe were conditioned by the Cold-War along fairly similar lines as the situation in the USA (Sharpeless, Greenlagh). They were also conditioned the social-economic plans at home (massive urbanization, industrialization, expanding needs of the labor force, fall of the birth-rates, increased life-expectancy and ageing population, or massive female employment).

I explore the opinions they expressed during several East-European, continental and World- meetings on the demographic challenges brought by population-ageing, use of modern contraception, availability of abortion, women’s participation on the labor market. I wish to explore whether a coherent ‘socialist’ perspective came about on the relationship between population dynamics and economic-social development. I examine these experts’ convergence or divergence of opinions during regional versus international meetings in relation with traditions and the mainstream within the global field of demography.

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