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.
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, 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. 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.
Alison Bashford, Laureate Professor in History at the University of New South Wales
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