In 1959 CBS Reports presented the population explosion to viewers as a crisis whose ingredients were statistical. Conceptualizing quantification as a socially situated media practice, this article interrogates the history of the production and circulation of the demographic data and the iconic figures that brought the population crisis to life. The analysis exhumes the intertwined quantitative contingencies and affective associations in three demographic formations: the calibration of natural fertility and pregnancy risk that naturalized fertility as an excessive feature of “other” women's bodies; accounts of population dynamics haunted by racialized feminine figures of natural excess and cultural incompetence; and population projection procedures that elided mortality and amplified the effects of fertility on population growth and economic development. The resulting figures, deployed by US demographers in a concerted media campaign, provoked a mathematical panic about global futures that moved nations to intervene in women's reproductive lives.
Figuring the Population Explosion: Demography in the Mid-Twentieth Century
Carole R. McCann is a professor and chair of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies and special assistant to the provost for interdisciplinary activities at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is the author of Figuring the Population Bomb: Gender and Demography in the Mid-Twentieth Century (University of Washington Press, 2016) and coeditor with Seung-Kyung Kim of the Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives (Routledge), now in its fourth edition.
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Carole R. McCann; Figuring the Population Explosion: Demography in the Mid-Twentieth Century. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2017; 3 (3): 30–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2017.3.3.30
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