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Population Management: A Political Issue?

J. Devika

Edited by Mohan Rao  and Sarah Sexton
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 350, Rs.795.00


In 2004, I went around the research institution where I work in search of a discussant for a paper on the historical shaping of public consent for family planning in 20th century Kerala. This was interdisciplinary work which reexamined some of the received wisdom of demography pertaining to Kerala from a critical historical perspective. Many senior colleagues skimmed the title, and finding ‘family planning’ in it, suggested, ‘Find a demographer’! So I sought out demographers, who read snatches from the paper and stared at me in disbelief, as if it was blasphemy to historicize hallowed ideas such as the ‘demographic transition’. It is readily apparent that the authors who have contributed to the volume under review do not subscribe to such piety. Therefore, to me, it represents more congenial company. Academic research on population management had travelled, even in 2004, far from the once-unshakeable statist, quantitative, Eurocentric truths, but large sections of the academia are yet to acknowledge this shift. This volume is indeed capable of forcing a rethinking, as it reveals the advantage to be reaped by critical scholarship from adopting interdisciplinary perspectives and methodological and theoretical pluralism. Many essays in the volume interrogate global discourses of population management dominant within currently-hegemonic neoliberal conceptions of development; others focus on specific countries in the South to reveal the complexities of the unfolding of the new population management agenda. The methods used range from statistical analysis to textual analysis and anthropological fieldwork. Most essays do not stay within conventional disciplinary boundaries. And each offers useful insight into the ways in which many of the familiar certainties of population management have not only continued to stay entrenched within national and global policy, but also how they now inform the discourse of radical social movements—specifically, feminism. The volume includes eleven essays connected by a common focus on the unfolding of contemporary global biopolitics, besides the introduction which discusses the significance of critical inquiry into the complex links between the stubbornly-persistent imperatives of population management, the global crisis in public health triggered off by neoliberal welfare reform, and the transformation of the feminist discourse of reproductive rights in a world under neoliberal hegemony. Some of them look back critically at a much-celebrated moment of feminist ‘victory’, the Cairo Consensus of 1994, which is supposed to have decisively altered the course of population policy globally, setting it away from demo-graphically-driven population management imperatives towards women’s empowerment ...

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