Over Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th June, the Laureate Centre for History and Population hosted a conference on population theory in the age of revolutions – part of an ongoing project led by Laureate Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Stephen Pascoe.
The project, “Rethinking Population in an Age of Revolution,” interrogates how we might make sense of the revival of interest in the population question during the late revolutionary age. It considers the emergence of key texts in the production of knowledge about population – penned by such thinkers as Malthus, Volney, and Adam Smith – and explores how the production of demography in diverse contexts around the world was shaped by the profound global upheaval of this period. The revolutionary moment of the 1770s and 1780s had remade conceptions of citizenship and subjecthood, and of populations and states, from North America to France to Haiti and beyond. By the late 1790s, revolutionary fervour continued in some parts of the world, while reactionary politics had emerged elsewhere.
As a first stage in the collaborative project, this two-day workshop brought together scholars of the Middle East, the Caribbean, India, and of the British and French empires. Participants examined how emergent ideas of statecraft, population and empire took expression in this revolutionary moment, reflecting on how the population question shaped the struggles over land and territory in this period, from Egypt, Ireland, the Antilles, India, to North America and contested territories beyond.
Through such case studies, participating scholars considered how conceptions of the domain of the social, and of “the people” were reconfigured in this period. This allowed reflection on the ways in which new imaginaries of population, against the backdrop of revolutionary, anti-revolutionary and postrevolutionary debates, shaped concern for the government of life, in both metropolitan and colonial spaces.
Plans are now underway to produce a special journal edition based on this productive exchange of ideas. This will be led by Stephen Pascoe (Laureate Centre for History & Population, UNSW) and Professor Ian Coller (University of California, Irvine), who will work together to further elaborate the key themes of the collection. Publication of the special issue is anticipated for mid-2023.