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Seminar on the Production and Circulation of Population Knowledge

March 2001
Organised by the IUSSP Committee on Anthropological Demography

Call for Papers

This workshop is concerned with the production and circulation of population knowledge. The impetus for the workshop derives from a series of questions about the design, implementation and evaluation of population based programmes and from a linked set of questions concerning the role of social processes in fertility change.

We propose to approach the social processes involved in the production and circulation of population knowledge from two directions. On the one hand, we are interested in describing the flows of scientific and policy knowledge from global actors through national programmes to local consumers (see Hodgson and Watkins 1997; Watkins and Hodgson 1998) and the flow of local knowledge to global actors. At the same time, as anthropologists we are interested in examining these flows in the context of recent theories of globalization, culture and social interaction.

Policy Questions

Much of the scientific and policy knowledge deployed in population programmes -- knowledge concerning the determinants of fertility and mortality transitions, the design of family planning programmes, AIDS, etc. -- is formulated in global agencies. On the basis of this knowledge, recommendations regarding individual behaviour are formulated : e.g. couples will be better off with smaller families, condoms should be used in extramarital relations. Much effort and expense has been invested in disseminating these recommendations to men and women in developing countries. Yet the dissemination is not direct, from the producer of the knowledge and recommendations to the individuals for whom it is meant. Rather, the knowledge flows through various levels: first national governments and NGOs and then to local clinics before finally reaching the intended audience. This workshop will ask three sets of questions about this process.

The first set of questions concerns the production of scientific and policy knowledge related to population and its formulation in "best practice" and programme standards (see Barrett 1995, Caldwell and Caldwell 1986, Donaldson 1990, and Harkavy 1995). Much of this work is carried out in or supported by agencies that have a global mandate such as the uN, the WHO and the World Bank and/or national agencies that have a global reach such as uSAID. Some of this knowledge comes from natural scientists : e.g. the development of modern contraceptives and attempts to develop AIDS vaccines. Some comes from social scientists: e.g. efforts to measure the demand for family planning methods or condoms (Mroz et al. 1999) or to explain why women in a high fertility population use modern family planning in ways very different from those expected by the population movement (Bledsoe et al. 1998). And some comes from policy debates such as the 1994 uN Conference on Population and Development. It is clear that the choices made in the design and dissemination of such research -- to concentrate on the development of female rather than male contraceptives, for example, or to implement family planning programmes that largely ignored males -- have enormous consequences. But too little attention has been given to the social process by which such choices are debated and ultimately made. Through what social processes in what global networks are scientific and policy knowledge about population produced and disseminated? Are the global messages identical or are they adapted to different countries and regions?

The second set of questions concerns what happens to the scientific and policy knowledge related to population programmes as it is disseminated first, to national governments and NGOs and then to local programmes and their clients (see Hodgson and Watkins 1997; Watkins and Hodgson 1998). At the national level, it is evident that national governments and NGOs respond to suggestions concerning "best practice" and programme standards in a variety of ways. For example, although virtually all countries signed on to the Cairo Programme of Action, the depth of the commitment of some signatories can be questioned. Some have attempted to implement a wide variety of Cairo recommendations, whereas others have accepted a few recommendations but ignored others. Which recommendations have been accepted and which rejected, and why? If national governments and NGOs prefer to follow Cairo on STD/HIV prevention and on family planning but to ignore Cairo's recommendations to curb domestic violence, why is this the case? What pressures are then brought to bear by donors to implement Cairo, and are these unevenly focused on some aspects of Cairo as well? In another area, why does the national AIDS programme in Kenya emphasize interventions aimed at prostitutes and truck-drivers, rather than ordinary husbands and wives in areas where seroprevalence rates among pregnant women are high? Similarly, at the local level, clinic staff nurses may adopt some of the Ministry of Health's recommendations but reject others. In general, how is scientific and policy knowledge winnowed and recast as it moves from the sites where it is produced to those where it is expected to be used? Are the changes, if any, a consequence of translation or are they also due to other social processes such as appropriation, collusion or resistance? Is resistance overt or is it simply a matter of failing to implement recommendations that are embarrassing or difficult to implement? How much power do national governments, NGOs, local programme staff and clients have in resisting the recommendations of donors? And on what grounds do they resist?

The third set of questions concerns the production of population knowledge in national and local sites and its circulation to global actors. Here work on the production and circulation of knowledge in translocal relations intersects work on social processes and fertility change in local settings. Against economic theories of fertility change that abstract representative individuals or couples from their social settings or that treat communities and nations as responding only to what takes place inside their borders, this work seeks to take account of the ways in which individuals and social groups are embedded in social systems. Persons and groups are tied together by "channels of social interaction" -- local, national and global; horizontal as well as vertical -- "through which information and ideas, evaluation, and social influence flow" (Bongaarts and Watkins 1996:657). Learning is social as well as individual (Montgomery and Casterline 1996). Together these lines of research suggest questions such as the following. How is knowledge produced by members of local communities ? How are global recommendations to be chaste or to always use condoms discussed by the men and women involved in transmitting HIV/AIDS? How can social scientists who come from the capital or abroad learn about these discussions? If national governments claim that there is no domestic violence in their country, or that the IuD is unacceptable to their people, do the global actors listen? Is there feedback that modifies the recommendations about "best practice" and programme standards?

Globalization, Culture, and Social Interaction

The production and circulation of population knowledge are aspects of the production of global culture or globalization. Defined roughly as the movement, transmission, or serial reproduction of meaningful social forms -- musical genres, consumer goods, financial instruments, scientific and policy knowledge, etc. -- through different sites in translocal structures, globalization has attracted considerable attention in recent years (see, for example, Featherstone 1990, Hannerz 1992, and Appadurai 1996).

Modernization theorists of the 1960s and 1970s expected that eventually there would be a homogeneous global culture. This expectation was consistent with the more general concept of culture as a corpus of shared beliefs, usually closely confined to the boundaries of a particular territory or a particular group. In addition to enshrining a problematic distinction between knowledge and belief (see Good 1994), this view fails to appreciate the extent to which new information is continually produced and circulated to groups far away, the variability in production and circulation across and between communities and the interactions through which social boundaries are defined, exercised and crossed. Currently, the notion of a trend toward a homogeneous global culture is being replaced by the idea that all culture, local as well as global, is an "organization of diversity" (Hannerz 1992). Reggae is popular in Malawi, Vaclav Havel admired Frank Zappa, and South African acapella groups are popular in the U.S. as the result of Paul Simon’s work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Capital circles the globe in less than 24 hours. Depo-Provera is readily available in The Gambia. Coca Cola is everywhere. But we have to ask how these things are transformed as they move from one context to another.

All knowledge is produced in social interactions that are in some sense localized and all localities produce knowledge. In the contemporary world, the circulation of knowledge is rapid and pervasive. Some knowledge acquires a global character, moving from one locality to another or others through institutions with a global reach. The proposed workshop asks how the global and the local are defined in relation to each other and what happens to knowledge as it circulates from local to global sites and back.

The local and the global. The workshop will investigate the variety of relations through which "locality" is constituted relative to regional, state-level and international processes. Our approach necessarily proceeds from a theory of social action more complex than standard rational choice models, in which action is conceived in terms of autonomous individuals making choices in order to maximize their return. On the contrary, we take the agents of fertility related conduct to be individuals and groups co-engaged in various kinds of social interaction. This includes gossip and counselling and other face-to-face engagements among co-present agents. It also includes soap operas and other mediated engagements among agents who are separated in time, space or other social dimensions. The relations through which "locality" is constituted are at once conduits through which information and ideas, evaluation, and social influence flow (Bongaarts and Watkins 1996:657) and critical sites at which agents learn and make choices (Montgomery and Casterline 1996).

If, for example, the village is pivotal for contraceptive choice in Thailand (see Entwisle et al. 1996), might not the neighbourhood, the social network, church affiliation, the marketplace or the social movement be pivotal in another society or for another aspect of conduct involved in fertility or mortality? What, in short, are the key social units and factors that help define population-related decisions, strategies and habits (see Hammel 1990)? Not only can such factors have a critical impact on population, but they help define "locality." They (or other similar ones) are among the elements to which local social agents orient when making decisions and engaging in actions. Sometimes this orientation is a matter of consciously focusing on social factors in making a decision or in acting. A woman, or a couple or a group (based on co-residence, kinship, network affiliation or other factors) decide on a course of action regarding, say, contraception, proper spacing of births or the treatment of childhood illness -- attending explicitly to the expectations of their peers or to likely economic consequences. Often though, social factors are not explicitly thematized by actors in situ. Instead the social matrix is the taken-for-granted setting in which vital events are lived and evaluated.

In order to properly construct "locality" then, and the actional settings in which population consequent processes occur, we must examine the social embedding of action. This cannot be reduced to a list of "socioeconomic indicators", because statistically coded social or economic indicators never add up to a social context. They never tell us how the field of decision and action is constituted by the actors engaged in it. It is therefore unsurprising that socioeconomic context, when atomized into a collection of indicators, seems to have little impact on population processes. The problem is that such indicators are blind to the systems and values through which action is articulated, whether in the New York City boardroom or the distant rural clinic. As we see it, one of the challenges of a specifically anthropological contribution to population studies is to retheorize locality. This is part of the larger project of understanding what is meant by "globality," and by extension "global flows," since the global and the local refer not to places or things, but to relations.

Flows of knowledge. Following Hannerz’ (1992) lead, we will examine translocal information flows in terms of several parameters. The agents engaged in making and moving meaning each enter into the process from a certain perspective. We might say that all agents occupy a specific, limited segment of the whole formation. They may have access to more or less far reaching information pertaining to the global information network, but they evaluate and encode that information from the viewpoint of their own current position. Access to information and other resources is always positional. Clearly, not all positions provide equal access to, control over or resources for manipulating information. The second feature, therefore, is what Hannerz and others have called symmetry and asymmetry of perspectives (cf. Hanks 1990). It means simply that two or more positional perspectives may provide similar or dissimilar access to information and resources. The third parameter distinguishes expression from reception of information. It is self evident that an agent's access to information produced by others is distinct from its access to the means of producing information itself. Given a field of agents engaged in these ways, we can then ask a set of questions about the forms of information and other values that circulate through the field. Here we are concerned especially with two things: how information is amplified or depleted as it moves along translocal trajectories, and how information is transformed in the process. We can think of the former as enrichment or impoverishment, and the latter as the alteration.

In sum, we suggest that further research on the production and circulation of population knowledge and its effects on fertility and mortality change should address the following questions. How can we best describe the fields and social relationships through fertility-relevant decisions and actions are undertaken? What kinds of information are taken into account by agents in situ, and how is that information produced, conveyed and evaluated? What are the modalities and attitudes in which it is framed -- as knowledge, belief, credible fact, news, fear, hope and so forth? Part of the framing of information turns on the evaluation of its sources, and this raises the question of where, why, how and by whom it is produced. As we observe the movement of information through channels linking international organizations to the places in which policy is implemented, what kinds of transformation does information undergo? And what kinds of interactions occur between sites in different sectors of the total network? We do not assume that the total network can be meaningfully described as a fixed core-periphery structure in which all the critical information flows from the Euroamerican core to the hinterlands. On the contrary we are keen to define bidirectional trajectories, as well as the incrementing and altering of information as it is received and reproduced. The local is neither included within the global, nor is it merely a peripheral refraction of the so-called core). While it would clearly be impossible to address these questions in a single conference, they are the starting point from which we proceed.

The scientific organisers for this seminar are : Anthony Carter (atcarter@troi.cc.rochester.edu), William Hanks (wfhanks@nwu.edu) and Susan Watkins (swatkins@pop.upenn.edu).

Abstracts and a one page CV are to be sent by December 31, 1999 to :

Anthony T. Carter
Department of Anthropology
university of Rochester
440 Lattimore Hall
Rochester, New York 14627-0161

Fax + 1 716 2716352
email : atcarter@troi.cc.rochester.edu

With a copy to :

Christiane Turco
turco@IUSSP.org (direct mailbox)
34 rue des Augustins
4000 Liège

Fax + 32 4 222 38 47
Email : IUSSP@IUSSP.org (general mailbox)
Web site : http://www.IUSSP.org