Helen Macbeth and Paul Collinson, Eds., Human Population Dynamics: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

By Kerr, Don | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Helen Macbeth and Paul Collinson, Eds., Human Population Dynamics: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives


Kerr, Don, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Cambridge University Press. 2002, 224 pp.

It has been observed that the social sciences tend to encroach on each other's terrain; each tends to seize upon the social in its entirety. It has also been observed that demography is somewhat unusual in this regard. Far from being imperialistic in terms of subject matter, demography has the tendency to withdraw from its borders, in narrowing the focus to the study of population dynamics (Keyfitz, 1984). In other words, many demographers are almost exclusively concerned with modelling and studying interrelations among a small set of strictly demographic variables.

In recognizing this tendency, this edited collection provides a very interesting contribution to the literature, and deserves a wide readership among demographers and non-demographers alike. In appreciation of the work of specialists in several different disciplines, this book contains contributions by researchers in demography, social and biological anthropology, history, human geography, genetics, biology and ecology. A common thread of continuity that holds the many contributions together is a specific focus upon either fertility, mortality and/or migration, i.e. the fundamental vehicles of population change. Yet while maintaining this focus, this edited collection demonstrates the value of studying human populations using theoretical frameworks and methodologies from different traditional disciplines, including those that are outside of the social sciences.

The study of "population dynamics" is often associated with highly mathematical formulations of population change that fall within the narrowly defined realm of formal demography. Yet of the disciplinary approaches presented in this volume, the only contribution that comes remotely close to this is Hinde's chapter which introduces some of the most basic analytical methods of formal demography. The purpose of this chapter is to merely introduce to non-demographers the specialist terminology and first principles of population analysis, without elaborating in great detail as to the corresponding interrelationships. For the demographer, there is nothing new in this chapter that has not been dealt with in much greater detail elsewhere, as for example, in Hinde's (1998) very own excellent textbook on demographic methods.

The primary purpose of this chapter was to introduce several key concepts that surface again and again throughout the latter contributions to this text.

Some of the contributions to this book closely intersect with demography's traditional emphasis whereas others are far from being familiar territory. Falling closer to demography's traditional emphasis include Clarke's demonstration of the overlap between demography and geography, Smith's work in historical demography, as well as the contribution of Rousham and Humphrey from the neighbouring discipline of epidemiology. The emphasis of Clark's overview of world population growth is on the spatial distribution of population and the relative importance of migration in understanding urbanization and rural depopulation. Smith's work in historical demography returns to a common insight of past research, that being, the significance of nuptiality and household formation patterns in the explanation of past demographic regimes and the pace of fertility decline. The chapter by Rousham and Humphrey summarizes a well-developed literature on child mortality, in explaining differentials both historically and internationally.

Much less familiar to demography's traditional emphasis is the geneticist's perspective on population dynamics, as exemplified in the contributions by Jorde et al. and Bertranpetit and Calafell. While introducing a vocabulary and orientation to doing research on human populations that falls at the periphery of the social sciences, this work is particularly interesting to those involved in research relating to population history. …

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Helen Macbeth and Paul Collinson, Eds., Human Population Dynamics: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives
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