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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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Chapter 5: Demographic pressure and institutional creations: The hunt for “good migrants”


A plethora of candidates is available for immigration across the world. Now or never is the time to choose those who will be most easily assimilated. In two years, it will be too late. Francis Perrin, Intervention to the Technical Committee of INED, 9 February 1946.

The institutional overdrive of April 1945 and the unresolved political disagreements from which it resulted, in no way ended the uncertainty that had loomed over demographic and family policy since the Liberation. Rather, they heralded an aggressive competition between the official bodies devoted to it, as well as between leading and aspiring spokesmen for the population cause. In this context of instability, the development of personal power relationships and the constitution of a lasting institutional framework went hand in hand. Indeed, the stakes of this competition for opportunities was the leadership, or even the foundation, of new administrative bodies. An additional factor compounded the speed and the unpredictability of these dynamics: the feeling of demographic urgency linked to the hunt for foreign “good immigrants” in a Europe that was reeling from the immediate aftermath of the war. This factor is key to understanding the origins of the post-war institutions dedicated to population: obviously the new French National Office of Immigration, whose origin is now well known1, but also the National Institute of Demographic Studies and the Ministry of Population, which will be discussed at length. ← 145 | 146 →

Georges Mauco, a hardliner for the high committee on Population and...

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