Past Event

Alison Bashford - How Do We Think about Population in the Anthropocene?

April 4, 2022
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
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Event Description

Alison Bashford explores first how modern (post c. 1780) population changes have entered discussion on the Anthropocene. Second, she asks how historians specifically, might (not should) begin to answer this question, with attention to both accelerating global net population growth and local population decline. She considers the ‘Anthropocene’ (not, say, ‘climate change’), since the former is an historical as well as a geological phenomenon, and, it turns out, a familiar one. In one version, the parameters of the Anthropocene are simply what historians have long called ‘the modern period’ or (importantly) ‘industrialization’. Looked at this way, the Anthropocene was core business for historians long before it was named by atmospheric chemists. This was a field of historical work in which demographic change was center stage analytically speaking, including the relationship between energy transitions to fossil fuels and population growth. If this is one common origin point for both ‘the Anthropocene’ and the work of historians of ‘the modern world’, what happened to analysis of population? 

Alison Bashford's work traces the fortunes and trends of historical work on global population from the mid-twentieth century into the era when the Anthropocene was named. The catastrophic register of ‘the population bomb’ era (for shorthand), including its connection to ecological sciences and then environmentalist politics, is the immediate antecedent to political responses to the Anthropocene crisis. That much we already know. Here Allison Bashford explores how and why ‘population’ went from center-stage to off-stage. At one level, this indicates one of the more remarkable public impacts of humanities and social science research. Discussion of population growth and ‘population control’ became highly charged and then became almost unspeakable. For better or worse this was a remarkable success story of and for ‘critique’: of health systems, of political economy, of Cold War geopolitics, variously via feminist studies, race and postcolonial studies, via Marxism and left science studies from the 1970s onwards. After and in the light of that impact, she asks how or whether ‘population’ might productively be considered via a ‘postcritique’ humanities and social sciences, not least bringing historians into that conversation.

Event Speakers

  • Alison Bashford, Laureate Professor in History at the University of New South Wales
  • Response by Kavita Sivaramakrishnan, Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University
  • Chaired by Maureen Raymo, Co-Founding Dean of the Climate School at Columbia University

Event Information

Free and open to the public; registration required. Please email [email protected] with any questions. 

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