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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 6: An Institute for Alfred Sauvy?


“Politics divides, technique unites” François Goguel, La politique des partis sous la IIIe République [Party politics under the 3rd Republic], 1958, p. 560.

Statistics and influence

If there is a man whose career was shaped by the institutional expansion of population issues, it was definitely Alfred Sauvy (1898-1990). So were the paths of his junior colleagues – beginning with his INED researchers – who were steered to this new sector at the very start of their careers, without really having planned it. But Sauvy, who was half a generation older, was in a different position. Already greatly advanced in life, he was able to influence his institutional environment. This does not mean that he pursued a calculated strategy at every step of the way. A combination of events brought him to INED during the first fifteen months after Liberation, when he simultaneously explored several options before choosing to focus on population. Close to fifty years old, Sauvy had still not found a position that matched his ambition. In his many autobiographical writings, he suggested that before the war there had been no opening for the role of economic analysis disseminator to which he aspired. The fact that he was torn between several tracks (research, politics, well-informed popularization and even journalism) was at least as important a factor. Ironically, he ended up establishing himself in the field of population – an area he certainly cared about, but not the one at the forefront of his interests....

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