Does political and security demography have a professional society that it can call “home”?
Research in this field—the study of the political and security-related consequences of demographic conditions and trends—already has an intellectual home within the Environmental Change and Security Program. But has it secured a place for itself among disciplinary academic societies?
In search of an answer, I undertook some serious “conference stalking” over the past year, attending the annual meetings of the International Studies Association
(ISA), and the American Political Science Association
(APSA). At the end of April, I returned from two more—the Population Association of America
(PAA), held in Dallas, TX; and the American Association of Geographers
(AAG), in Washington, DC.
International Studies Association
From my perspective, ISA currently offers the most promise for graduate students and young analysts who would like to participate in, or use results from, political and security demography. While the audiences at ISA’s political demography sessions have not been spectacularly large (usually fewer than 20 people), ISA is the only academic society, to my knowledge, that has organized a formal “Political Demography Section” to advance the field. (Former ISA president Jacek Kugler of Claremont Graduate University led the charge last year.)
(Editor’s note: At the 2010 ISA conference, ECSP organized a roundtable on “Strategies for Bridging Research and Policy in the Classroom: Teaching Environment, Population, Conflict, and Security.” A panel of four educators discussed the unique challenges facing those that attempt to teach hybrid security issues. Panelist Jennifer Sciubba’s presentation, in which she shared techniques for bridging the gaps that exist between the study of political science and issues of population and environment, is posted on the New Security Beat.)
Population Association of America
In terms of fostering political demography, PAA, the professional organization for American demographers, currently ranks second. Despite the lack of a formal section, PAA’s 2010 conference included several sessions on research germane to politics and security, including “Demographic Determinants and Consequences of War, Conflict and Terrorism; “21st Century Refugee Policy and Refugee Demography”; and “Population, Politics, and Conflict in the Middle East.”
The session on the Middle East, which was moderately well attended and fostered an animated discussion, featured papers on: internal migration during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War (Marwan Khawaja and Shireen Assaf); demographic projections for Israeli ethnoreligious groups (Eric Kaufman and myself); and a discussion of possible demographic outcomes from the creation of a Palestinian state (Uzi Rebhun).
The PAA session on the demographic determinants and consequences of violent conflict focused on the human costs: forced migration’s impact on child survival in Angola (Winifred Avogo); impact of terror on birth rates in Israel (Guy Stecklov); the death toll in Cambodia (Patrick Heuvaline); and long-term consequences of war and genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda (Sarah Statveig).
While these topics—the demographic consequences of conflict—are important to international health and relief organizations, they don’t fit well within (my conceptualization of) political and security demography. In introducing the session, its chair, CUNY’s Neil Bennett, called attention to the absence of this perspective, by noting that he received over a dozen submissions on the demographic consequences of conflict, but only one submission (which was not selected for presentation) that hypothesized demography as a determinant of conflict.
The ebbing of political demography among demographers is a legacy of demography’s development over the past generation. Today, PAA annual meetings and the society’s journal, Demography, are dominated by what I call “passive demography”—programs hypothesizing the influence of social, health, economic, or political conditions on demographic trends; or research that employs demographic characteristics as categories for which sociological and health conditions are assessed (as in studies of the aged, urban residents, ethnoreligious groups, women of childbearing age, school-age children, etc.).
But even as the majority of academic demographers were settling into this approach, another group—mostly theoreticians—were digging through census and hospital records to identify how populations entered and passed through the demographic transition. Their efforts ultimately produced today’s population estimates and projections (published by the UN Population Division and U.S. Census Bureau’s International Program Center).
The parallel development of these perspectives produced a somewhat schizophrenic discipline. While demography is unmatched in its abilities among peer social sciences to project—with surprising accuracy and clarity—two to three decades into the future, most demographers are uncomfortable ascribing meaning to demographic conditions or trends.
There are, of course, exceptions: active approaches that hypothesize influences of demographic factors on non-demographic conditions. For example, economic demography, which owes its origins to Ansley Coale’s early theorization of the demographic bonus, is focused on the influences of age structural changes on the economy of states. More recently, PAA organized a section that combines economic demography, population-environment studies, and other active demographic fields into the Population, Environment, and Development Section.
American Association of Geographers
The annual conference of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) seemed like a good fit. Geographers are interdisciplinary by training, and AAG has already organized formal “specialty groups” on political geography and population geography. Despite these advantages, few senior geographers (if any) have worked at the intersection of these two specialties.
For AAG 2010, Col. Laurel Hummel (USMA, West Point) and I organized a session titled “Demography as a Dynamic Predictor of Political, Developmental and Security Outcomes.” The four presentations included: liberal democracy and demography (John Doces and myself); the evolution of urban and rural age structures during the demographic transition (Elizabeth Leahy Madsen); and a demographic study of a voting in the U.S. Upper Midwest (Peter Camilli). Unfortunately, our session was scheduled on the final day and poorly attended.
Nonetheless, I was impressed at the number of population-related sessions at AAG 2010, including several related to population’s interactions with environmental conditions (tropical forest settlement; climate change’s possible health and demographic impacts) and on demographic issues of political consequence (China’s one-child policy; the geography of Sweden’s conscription and its future).
American Political Science Association
I’ve been most surprised to find that efforts to spark interest in political demography at APSA conferences have not been overly successful. Sessions that focus on the implications of religious demographic differences have gained some support from APSA’s Religion and Politics Section, but in general, political scientists have yet to embrace either political demography’s methods or its findings. In a 2005 interview with Robert Putnam and M. Kent Jennings, both past presidents of APSA, demographic change was identified as being among the most predictable of future trends, yet the least studied by political scientists.
A recent article in Foreign Affairs, “The Next Population Bomb” by Jack Goldstone (George Mason U.), could break down a few of political science’s disciplinary barriers. However, the fences seem exceptionally high. Despite being identified as a session “of special interest” at the 2009 APSA conference, “Demography and Security: The Politics of Population Change in an Age of Turbulence” (organized by Eric Kaufmann, U. London) was sparsely attended.
Political and security demography’s progress is as erratic as it is paradoxical. While demand in the security community grows for the field’s products, they appear to pass virtually unnoticed in academic circles.
But there’s a bright side to this puzzle. ISA draws a substantial portion of its membership from analysts in security think-tanks and among intelligence and defense-related agencies—and for that reason it may, after all, be the most comfortable spot for analysts pursuing political and security demography to call “home.”
Richard Cincotta is a consultant with the Environmental Change and Security Program and the demographer-in-residence at the H.L. Stimson Center in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: “World population” courtesy of Flickr user Arenamontanus.