Historical Social Research

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Reinhard Messerschmidt: “Garbled demography” or “Demographization of the social”? – A Foucaultian Discourse Analysis of German Demographic Change at the Beginning of the 21st Century [Abstract]

German discourses of demographic change are characterized by alarmist scenarios. Especially since the turn of the millennium, a growing amount of publications addresses 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). However, the “demographization of the social” (Barlösius 2007) turns out to be more complex than a misunderstanding or a distortion of “neutral” scientific facts. Michel Foucault’s works provide a framework of suitable complexity in order to analyze the depth-structures of both discourses and their interrelations. This paper will first 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. Subsequently, these depth structures will be related to preliminary results of a discourse analysis of 2900 press articles from leading German newspapers and journals covering the period from 2000 to 2012. In conclusion, first contours of a recently emerging post-alarmist discourse will be outlined.

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