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Paul-André Rosental

Understanding Demography The Politics and Science of Population in France (1930-1960)

Demography has become a controversial issue in contemporary France: experts argue about the birth-rate, electoral battles are fought around family policy, and State Plans on population questions have multiplied. Often accused of serving to justify pro-birth policies, in an “acceptable” manner, demography calls into question the ties linking science, institutions and ideology. After examining the channels through which demographic information is communicated, the author explains how and why this situation has come about.
Paul-André Rosental begins by examining the political foundations of demographic information in France in the late 1930s. The first institutions, created in 1939, were remodelled by the Vichy government and sanctioned at the Liberation. In 1945, France’s national institute of demographic studies (INED) was created, spearheaded by Alfred Sauvy. What were the implications of this creation? What were its earliest goals? How should one interpret the controversies that later came to plague a state organisation that had originally been devoted to research?
Rosental has based his study on the INED’s archives, which he has been the first to study in detail. He has successfully reconstructed the process that led to historical demographics, which never lost its political dimension, and examines the inheritance of post-war theories and the desire for renewal expressed in the early days of the Fifth Republic.
This is the first history about contemporary French demographic science and ideology.

Paul-André Rosental is a senior lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He is the author of Les Sentiers invisibles: espace, famille et migrations dans la France du XIXe siècle.