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Population, the state, and national grandeur

Demography as political science in modern France


Paul-André Rosental

Only in France is demography essentially the population science: it is taught at school, newspapers feature the evolution of fertility rates in their headlines and the subject sparks ideological debates in the media. How did demography become a national identity issue?

The French exception is attributable to a political history that reached fulcrums during the Second World War under the racist Vichy regime and then after the Liberation, with the development of population policies and the creation of the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED). The book is the first to retrace its controversial genesis and analyze its ramifications for the following decades. It shows how theories, institutions and demographic policies developed simultaneously in France. Its reflection on the links between ideologies, science and the state offers a model that could be applied to the history of many other scientific disciplines.

Paul-André Rosental’s indispensable study examines the emergence of demography as an autonomous discipline and its association with the state in mid-twentieth-century France. Demography’s success in the immediate post-war years came in part from its dual concern with both "science" and "action," which allowed policy makers to claim both knowledge and expertise in addressing social problems. Rosental’s measured tone hides a provocative argument that should serve as both a model and a foil for others working in the history of the human sciences.

Joshua Cole, University of Michigan.


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A bibliographic note and update on works published since the original edition


This book was originally published in French in 2003 under the title L’Intelligence Démographique. For the English translation, I have not added a new bibliography of works published in the past fifteen years, because it has not changed the interpretations offered. On the contrary, recent publications can be viewed as confirming or deepening the ones I had suggested. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would nevertheless like to provide readers with an update that will keep them abreast of current historiographical orientations (I have also included a few older references that I had not consulted at the time of the writing of L’Intelligence Démographique).

Analysis of French demographic policies, and of their gendered dimensions, have contributed to a literature that had already started to blossom in the 1990s. Different aspects of these issues have been considered, such as the pronatalist ideology and lobby1, the politics of procreation and sexuality2, and the gendered construction of family relationships3. The ← 365 | 366 → expansion of the French State, which is a structuring feature of the period covered by the book, has also been fruitfully explored through the lens of population and births policies4, as well as of the relationship between demographic and health policies5.

The emergence of public family policies has also been the subject of much new research covering its general aspects and particularly focusing on “large families” (familles nombreuses)6, whose political importance I stress in the present volume. Both the interwar period7 and...

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