Dissertation Abstracts

Statistics or state-istics? An anatomy of the corps social presented in the Belgian population censuses (1846-1947)

Author: Louckx, Kaat , Kaat.Louckx@Ugent.be
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of Antwerp and Ghent University (Belgium), Belgium
Supervisor: Prof. dr. Frédéric Vandermoere and Prof. dr. Raf Vanderstraeten
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: statistics , social inclusion/exclusion , history of social science , Foucault
Areas of Research: History of Sociology , Population , Conceptual and Terminological Analysis


The main part of this ‘cumulative’ dissertation consists of four case studies, which use Belgian administrative statistics to analyse different aspects of the state- and nation-building processes and governmental techniques that were developed and used between the mid-nineteenth and the mid-twentieth century. Each case-study has theoretical ambitions, which reach beyond the case-study itself. Each time, an attempt is made to articulate the complex interactions between science, government, and society in the modern era in new ways.

In the first case-study, the point of departure is the ‘modern’ ambition to include the entire population into the nation-state and into the population censuses. But in spite of this strong emphasis on social inclusion, censuses also legitimate and reinforce several kinds of exclusion. In this chapter, attention is drawn to the range of exclusions and exclusion places that appeared in the Belgian population censuses.

The second case-study focuses attention on the re-articulation of the institution of the household within modern statistical discourse. The changes in the notion of ‘belonging’ to a household show how the state (re-)articulated its expectations regarding the cornerstones of society. It is also shown how the representation of the household in state-istics not only reflected new ways of managing the population, but also mobilized specific norms and evaluative standards about the individuals who constitute the household.

The third case-study focuses on another aspect of belongingness in the nation-state, viz. that expressed by the notion of the habitual place of residence. Changes in the articulation of the notion of ‘habitual residence’ in the Belgian population censuses show how the history of statistics is also a history of the struggles over belonging in and to the territorial state.

The final case-study addresses historical trajectory of the nation-state by focusing on the socio-cultural aspects of ‘belonging’ to or citizenship in the nation-state. By examining the modifications in these state-istical constructs, I hope to elucidate the more complex history of the construction of citizenship identities in the contemporary Belgian nation-state.

The epilogue, finally, presents a brief summary of the main findings of my research and presents some more general reflections.