Figuring the Population Bomb: Malthusian Masculinities and Demographic Transitions
December 7, 2016
Dr. Carole McCann
Professor and Chair, Gender and Women’s Studies, UMBC
On November 11, 1959, the television broadcast CBS Reports: The Population Explosion presented nine million viewers with the facts of the world population crisis, saying “its volatile ingredients are statistical.” Rebroadcast a year later to an even larger audience, the report investigated an issue that fueled public anxiety about potential war, famine, and related doomsday scenarios. Drawing from her new book, Figuring the Population Bomb: Gender and Demography in the Mid-Twentieth Century, Carole McCann traces the genealogy of the statistics that underwrote the midcentury panic about population growth. She illuminates the gendered geopolitical grounds and affective commitments of the specialized mathematical culture that composed the figures of the population explosion. The talk traces the inferential logics by which demographers’ quantification practices configured women’s bodies, especially women of color, as excessively fertile by nature; defined that fertility as the singular cause of growth; and installed the demographic transition to low fertility as necessary for modern citizens and nations. Those population figures, she argues, circled the globe, moved nations to intervene in women’s reproductive lives, and continue to haunt struggles to secure reproductive justice.
Carole McCann is Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender + Women’s Studies; Affiliate Professor of the Language, Literacy and Culture Program; and Special Assistant to the Provost for Interdisciplinary Activities at UMBC. Her research focuses on transnational feminist theory and science studies. Her publications include four editions of the highly regarded anthology, Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives, co-edited with Dr. Seung-Kyung Kim (Routledge Press, 2003, 2010, 2013, 2016), and Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945 (Cornell University Press, 1994, 1999). Her newest book, Figuring the Population Bomb: Gender and Demography in the Mid-Twentieth Century, is part of the new Feminist Technosciences series from the University of Washington Press, co-edited by Banu Subramaniam and Rebecca Herzig. It will be available in December 2016.
Co-sponsored by the Dresher Center for the Humanities and the Gender + Women’s Studies Department.