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Demography for the Public: Literary Representations of Population Research and Policy


  • Alaka M. Basu

  • I am extremely grateful to the referees and editors of Development and Change who pushed me to revise and tighten this article based on their very meticulous and engaged readings of it.


This article explores the idea of what may be called Public Demography, wherein the practitioners and interpreters of the discipline of population studies inform (and sometimes inflame) the popular discourse on population-related matters. It looks at the representation of demographic research and policies in one form of public engagement, namely fiction — literature being an important way of transmitting the substance of a technical field of study to a lay public. Reviewing a sample of fictional writing that is clearly derived from a specialized knowledge of the subject of demography, the article finds it useful to classify this genre into two groups. The works in the first group tend to reproduce or reiterate the mainstream assumptions underlying the academic discipline, while those in the second group seem to take on board more recent criticisms of these assumptions, sometimes in unexpected ways. Readers, however, seem to react much more readily to those works that repeat some of the ‘bad’ habits of the discipline.