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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 8: The birth of the world of research


INED, a public state institution, is accountable, and all its activity must be subordinated to its statutory obligation to shed light on the government’s demographic policy and on the action of public authorities. Alfred Sauvy, Meeting of the department heads, 10 July 1947.

INED was not the product of an isolated institutional process, but rather part of a system that included both organizations founded under the Vichy regime – the Institut national d’hygiène (National Institute of Hygiene)1, and the Office de la recherche scientifique coloniale (Office of Colonial Scientific Research)2 – and entities created after the Liberation, ranging from the Commissariat à l’Économie atomique (Economic Commission for Atomic Energy) to the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (National Institute for Agronomic Research), and from the Institut National de Sécurité (National Institute for Security) to the Centre scientifique et technique du bâtiment (Scientific and Technical Centre for Building Industry); both public organizations and public interest associations and foundations. Most of these were supposed to explicitly support the work of a ministry3. They shared some general characteristics, in particular the joint authority of a Scientific Council and Board of Directors that markedly differed from the “Carrel Foundation” Regent’s excessive freedom from oversight. However, each institute adopted its own statutes, especially in terms of personnel management. Researchers working for the state were seldom granted civil service status and were hired on a ← 227 | 228 → contract basis that varied from one organization to another4. By contrast, universities...

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