Figuring the Population Bomb traces the genealogy of twentieth-century demographic "facts" that created a mathematical panic about a looming population explosion. This narrative was popularized in the 1970s in Paul Ehrlich's best-selling book The Population Bomb, which pathologized population growth in the Global South by presenting a doomsday scenario of widespread starvation resulting from that growth.
Carole McCann uses an archive of foundational texts, disciplinary histories, participant reminiscences, and organizational records to reveal the gendered geopolitical grounds of the specialized mathematical culture, bureaucratic organization, and intertextual hierarchy that gave authority to the concept of population explosion. These demographic theories and measurement practices ignited the population "crisis" and moved nations to interfere in women's reproductive lives. Figuring the Population Bomb concludes that mid-twentieth-century demographic figures remain authoritative to this day in framing the context of transnational feminist activism for reproductive justice.
List of Abbreviations
1. Matters of Vital Importance: Demography and the Mid-Twentieth-Century Population Imaginary
2. Rereading Malthus: Population and Masculine Modernity
3. Narratives of Exclusion, Mechanisms of Inclusion: Demographic Boundary Work
4. Remaking Malthusian Couplings for the Contraceptive Age
5. Demographic Transitions and Modern Masculinities
6. "Second Sight" and "Fictitious Accuracy to the Numbers"
Conclusion: Demographic Convictions and Sound Knowledge
Carole McCann is professor of gender and women's studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is the author of Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945, and coeditor of Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives.
"A compelling look at twentieth-century demographic knowledge and how it continues to shape the field, including the ways that scholars, policy officials, and others see poor countries or 'overpopulation.'"
– Nancy E. Riley, coauthor of Demography in the Age of the Postmodern
"Brava! In this rich, fully realized analysis, McCann revisits 'the population bomb' global imaginary with a transnational feminist science studies lens. Focusing on key discourses-demography, birth control, and Indian anticolonialism-she brilliantly delineates the affective alignments across them that are requisite for sustained credibility of 'population' as solely a numbers game. Despite feminist challenges, the gendered and racialized discursive grammar McCann parses continues to generate globally 'imposable' contraceptives, locally stratified reproduction and, sadly, widely distributed human agony."
– Adele E. Clarke, author of Disciplining Reproduction: Modernity, American Life Sciences and the Problem of Sex