Dissertation Abstracts

Demographic Change As Dystopia: A Critical Analysis of Demographic Discourses and the Politics of Truth in German Science and Public of the Early 21st Century

Author: Messerschmidt, Reinhard , rmessers@smail.uni-koeln.de
Department: a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne
University: University of Cologne, Germany
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Andreas Speer
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: German

Keywords: Foucault , Discourse Analysis , Governmentality , Demographic Change
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Population , Language and Society


German discourses of demographic change are characterized by alarmist scenarios. Especially since the turn of the millennium, a growing number of publications address population aging and shrinking by depicting mostly dystopian future scenarios. Allegedly inevitable consequences with fundamental relevance for society are often proclaimed in the media and social-scientific discourses. Although most demographers alert to the fact that population projections should not be interpreted as prognoses, they are often employed as irrefutable knowledge as well as camouflage for normative positions. Complex demographic measures are frequently misinterpreted by journalists, who consequently produce “garbled demography” (Teitelbaum 2004).

Mass media's hegemonic discourse (mis-)uses of demography are supposed to prompt individuals to react to ”objective” scientific facts. It often includes the figures of ”experts” and ”prophets” that Michel Foucault (2011) developed in his later works as types of ”veridiction”. The ”prophets” misinterpret population projections as ”objective” statements about the future of society and camouflage their own normative positions. According to their statements, the state will soon no longer be able to provide social security systems and society will suffer from a ”generation-conflict”. Migrants will replace ”Germans”, who doubtlessly ”will become extinct in six generations”, as the major tabloid BILD wrote in 2006, referring to Prof. Herwig Birg as a demographic ”expert”, whose questionable but powerful writings (2001, 2005) follow a strong apocalyptic tendency. This tendency is shared by the influential ”spin doctoring” of lobby organizations and think tanks, which expects citizens to care about private pension insurance, healthcare insurance, and other forms of insurance as well as ”correct” their reproductive behavior towards fulfilling the implicit national-conservative expectations of explicit pro-natalists like Birg.

However, the “demographization of the social”(Barlösius 2007) turns out to be more complex than a misunderstanding or a distortion of “neutral” scientific facts. Foucault’s works provide a framework of suitable complexity in order to analyze the depth-structures of both discourses and their interrelations. This project will examine and describe relevant conditions of existence of demographic knowledge orders, their rules of formation, and discursive regularities in order to shed light on the demographic ontology of the present. These depth structures will be related to the results of a discourse analysis of 2900 press articles from leading German newspapers and journals covering the period of 2000 to 2014. In the dissertation's conclusion, both strands will be related to the governmentality of the present, philosophical implications we be discussed, and first contours of a recently emerging post-alarmist discourse will be outlined.

First insights are provided in Messerschmidt, Reinhard: “Garbled demography” or “Demographization of the social”? – A Foucaultian Discourse Analysis of German Demographic Change at the Beginning of the 21st Century. In: Historical Social Research 39 (2014) 1, 299-335, DOI: 10.12759/hsr.39.2014.1.299-335.

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