Reactions of Developing-Country Elites to International Population Policy

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Abstract

The authors examine the global diffusion of international population policy, which they consider a cultural item. The process of cultural diffusion is often seen as spontaneous: items of Western culture are in demand because they are universally attractive. Yet cultural flows may also be directed, they may be unattractive to their intended recipients, and their acceptance may depend on persuasion and material incentives. The authors consider the range of responses of national elites to the new population policy adopted by the United Nations at Cairo in 1994. Strongly influenced by feminists, the Cairo Program of Action promotes gender equity and reproductive health and demotes previous concerns with population growth. The data are interviews with representatives of governmental and nongovernmental organizations involved in population and health in five developing countries. To interpret the interviews, the authors draw on two theoretical frameworks. The first emphasizes the attractiveness of new cultural items and the creation of a normative consensus about their value. The second emphasizes differentials in power and resources among global actors and argues that the diffusion of cultural items can be directed by powerful donor states. Interviews in Bangladesh, Ghana, Jordan, Malawi, and Senegal portray a mixed reception to Cairo: enthusiastic embrace of certain aspects of the Cairo policy by some members of the national elite and a realistic assessment of donor power by virtually all. Strategies of rhetoric and action appear to be aimed at maintaining and directing the flows of donor funds.

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