Objectifying Demographic Identities

Philip Kreager

in Categories and Contexts

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9780199270576
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191600883 | DOI:

Series: International Studies in Demography

Objectifying Demographic Identities

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Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, demographic models, measures, and categories have played an influential role in identifying the groups of which modern societies are composed. By constituting the characteristics and problems of groups as objects of scientific inquiry and public intervention, demographic methods work to enfranchise (or disenfranchise) them for various purposes. As part of Europe's relations with colonial and post‐colonial states, demographic methods have helped shape a wide range of popular identities, as well as ordinary people's experience of basic vital processes. Understanding the impacts of demographic practice requires us to depart from the conventional view that population data and analysis merely represent social and biological phenomena. The impacts arise not only from eugenic and other biases that may shape demographic categories, but are integral to the actuarial matrix of what are usually considered purely formal modelling and quantitative methods. ‘Demographic nominalism’, i.e. the historical consequences of fixing the flow of vital and social events into discrete classificatory schemes and formal models, is examined in terms of three available historical approaches, and illustrated by instances drawn from the demography of Indian castes.

Keywords: actuarial matrix; castes; demographic nominalism; enfranchisement; formalism; identity; India; representation/intervention

Chapter.  12416 words. 

Subjects: History of Economic Thought

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