Anthropology, Demography, and the Search for a Critical Analysis of Fertility: Insights from Russia



The socialist and postsocialist contexts offer important challenges for anthropologists developing a critical analysis of fertility. The need for fertility studies to address class and gender inequities is often overlooked by postsocialist scholars, whose work is mired in responses to the socialist past and ongoing pronatalist campaigns. I examine the ways that fertility analysis has been used in national political struggles in Russia, and explain why supporters of democratic reforms and women's rights have neglected to address gender and class issues in their fertility studies. While Russian nationalists cite fertility decline as proof that market reforms threaten Russia's existence, defenders of neoliberalism draw on demographic transition theory to redefine fertility decline as a universal sign of socioeconomic development. Working with conventional demographic paradigms and a postsocialist cultural logic, Russian transition theorists simultaneously oppose pronatalist politics, support women's reproductive choice, and reproduce the limitations of liberal paradigms regarding the family, society, and public policy. This article shows how anthropological critiques of demographic transition theory can be expanded and nuanced by considering the ways this theory gets adapted to particular cultural logics and political contests. [Keywords: anthropology and demography, postsocialism, Russia, fertility decline]