The Methods and Uses of Anthropological Demography

The Methods and Uses of Anthropological Demography

The Methods and Uses of Anthropological Demography

The Methods and Uses of Anthropological Demography


This volume takes stock of the current status of the comparatively new discipline of `Anthropological Demography', and discusses its major methods, its main strengths, and its chief limitations. It includes contributions from both mainstream demographers and foremost anthropologists, all stressing the necessity of a shared agenda for each discipline to progress successfully and avoid marginalization. While the unique research and personal satisfaction afforded by `participant observation' is described, the book also highlights the potential contribution to the understanding of demographic events of much more than the field methods of traditional anthropology. In particular, it stresses the insights possible from qualitative focus group interviews, from longitudinal studies and from a greater interest in `armchair' anthropology, in which demographers complement their quantitative findings with qualitative information and understanding gleaned from a careful reading of the anthropological literature, in the form of both ethnographies and anthropological theories. In addition, it stresses the larger world of the ideal anthropological demographer: a world that includes the cultural context of course, but also takes into account the historical and political forces that condition so much individual behaviour. But the book is also a critical venture. It includes therefore considerable discussion of the common limits of the purely anthropological approach for understanding demographic events and processes, especially from a larger policy perspective, at the same time as it emphasizes the crucial role of the anthropological approach to designing policy that is potentially effective as well as socially and culturally sensitive. It reiterates the often complementary role of anthropological demography and also discusses some specific questions in demographic research which it does not as yet seem to have the capacity to illuminate. The book is aimed primarily at demographers wishing to broaden their research agenda and deepen their understanding of demographic behaviour, but it also hopes to convert mainstream anthropologists to take a more active interest in demographic issues. Both disciplines, after all, have a common intense interest in the kind of life and death issues that they can fruitfully explore together or by using one another's research methods.


This book is an outcome of a workshop organized by the Scientific Committee on Anthropological Demography of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. When the committee began its term in 1992, it felt that it needed to first make some formal attempt to define the scope of anthropological demography and develop not so much a manual as a guiding text to attract more demographers to this relatively new but potentially rich sub-discipline. This was especially necessary because interested demographers have nowhere to turn to for an exposition of the methods of anthropological demography; and even the kind of substantive research that is discussed in this volume and that will surely provoke further research, has until recently been unavailable in the standard demography journals, which have traditionally been biased towards more quantitative analyses.

Accordingly, the Committee decided to begin its activities with a workshop which invited mainstream demographers and anthropologists to discuss, debate, and reflect on the possibilities inherent in anthropological demography and to describe in usable terms the ways in which it can contribute to better demographic understanding. The workshop was held in Barcelona in November 1993 and several individuals and institutions deserve mention for its success.

To begin with, we would like to thank all seven members of the Committee on Anthropological Demography, even those whose names are missing from the formal contributions. The members are: Peter Aaby, John Anarfi, Alaka Basu, Caroline Bledsoe, Gilbert Herdt, Susana Lerner, and Kim Streatfield. The workshop and the book which follows was a joint endeavour at all times. In addition, the Committee was for all practical purposes made up of nine members, because Bruno Remiche and Irene Grignac from the IUSSP Secretariat were an integral part of all deliberations, academic as well as organizational. Bruno Remiche has since passed away and the Committee would like to record its special thanks for all his generous help and advice.

The workshop was made possible by funding from the Mellon Foundation and we are very grateful for this support. In addition, we have to thank the local organizers in Barcelona, the Centre d'Estudis Demografics and the Institut Catala d'Estudis Mediterranis. Not only did these organizations meet the local expenses of the workshop, they handled the administrative arrangements in a way that left a lasting impression. The workshop proceeded smoothly because of their efforts and the city of Barcelona came alive . . .

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