The Anthropological Demography of Europe

By Bernardi, Laura; Hutter, Inge | Demographic Research, July-December 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Anthropological Demography of Europe


Bernardi, Laura, Hutter, Inge, Demographic Research


Abstract

This paper introduces a collection of related research studies on the anthropological demography of Europe. Anthropological demography is a specialty within demography that uses anthropological theory and methods to provide a better understanding of demographic phenomena in current and past populations. Its genesis and ongoing growth lies at the intersection of demography and socio-cultural anthropology and with their efforts to understand population processes: mainly fertility, migration, and mortality. Both disciplines share a common research subject, namely human populations, and they focus on mutually complementary aspects. The authors of this paper focus on the differences between the disciplines of anthropology and demography, the emergence of anthropological demography and its theoretical, methodological, and empirical aspects. In addition, they critically summarize the contributions that were presented in the first workshop of the Working Group on Anthropological Demography of Europe of the European Association for Population Studies, held in Rostock in Fall 2005 and reflect on how these papers add to the further development of anthropological demography in Europe, i.e. elaborating the epistemology of anthropological demography; applying additional theoretical perspectives to better understand demographic behaviour in Europe ; illustrating the way in which culture plays a role in case studies on European demographic behaviour; and emphasizing the need for a holistic approach to data collection and the added value of triangulating quantitative and qualitative analyses.

1. Introduction: the intersection of demography and anthropology

Anthropological demography lies at the intersection of demography and socio-cultural anthropology, with their efforts to understand population processes: mainly fertility, migration, and mortality. Both disciplines share one research subject, namely human populations, though they focus on complementary aspects. Demography is mainly concerned with the dynamic forces defining population size and structure and their variation across time and space, whereas socio-cultural anthropology focuses on the social organization shaping people's production and reproduction. Given these different focuses, the methodological approaches are different: demography has a strong inclination towards quantification, statistical modeling, and hypothesis testing; anthropology is highly qualitative, based on case studies, and inductive. Anthropological demography uses anthropological theory and methods to investigate demographic phenomena. The main theoretical concepts in anthropological demography are culture, gender, institutions, and political economy; its empirical research approach includes a mix of quantitative and qualitative methodologies applied to case studies. Ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation are often central to this approach, as is interpretative reading of primary data and historical material.

The approach of anthropological demography is increasingly represented in population studies. However, its development faces major challenges due to the different epistemological and methodological traditions of its two 'constituent' disciplines. Demography is oriented to the quantification of population processes, while socio-cultural anthropology is oriented to the qualitative specification of the behavioral and institutional mechanisms defining such processes. The consequence is that demographers are often puzzled by aspects of socio-anthropological work such as the secondary role assigned to theory testing, its critical approach to universal analytical categories including the concepts of age, time, marriage, illness, and empirical focus on case studies not based on population representative samples. In turn, anthropologists tend to be skeptical about demographers' emphasis on statistical representativeness and on the comparable nature of data collected through standardized surveys; they claim that in demographers' work often little attention is paid to the validity of the data, of the analytical models, and of their interpretation.

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