The Population Quality Problem in East Asia

A panel @ the International conference "Growth: Critical Perspectives from Asia", 13-14 June 2013, University of Copenhagen

Panel conveners: Susan Greenhalgh (Harvard University), Tine Gammeltoft (University of Copenhagen), Masae Kato (University of Amsterdam) & Ayo Wahlberg (University of Copenhagen)

In East Asia, population has generated trepidation among governments and policymakers for some time. Much of this apprehension has been linked to population growth, as unchecked expansion of population is considered an obstacle to socio-economic development just as inverted population pyramids raise the specter of dependency burdens which can also negatively impact prospects of economic growth. East Asian governments have and continue to actively address the ‘population problem’ through family planning policies and programmes.

At the same time, there is one characteristic of demographic anxiety that seems to link a number of East Asian countries together, namely a concern that “population quality” will deteriorate unless concerted actions to counteract this are taken. Indeed, in some East Asian countries improvement of population quality (notably China) has been considered an essential component of overall socio-economic development. Notwithstanding considerable local, national and international controversy, governments in East Asia have over the last decades engaged with more or less explicit goals of improving population quality – through both reproductive and educational means. At the same time, fetal education guides, reproductive technologies, parent-centered educational drives and the like have generated localized quests for ‘quality offspring’. This panel aims to trace and examine the different ways in which concerns about population quality have played out in East Asian countries. Papers may explore six particular empirical and analytical terrains:

1) How and when did what we might term “the population quality problem” emerge (alongside and/or against “the population problem”) in policy debates as well as national discourses in East Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea? To what extent has there been resistance to or critiques of policies to improve population quality?

2) In which ways has the population quality problem been linked to national, indeed global, aspirations of socio-economic development and techno-scientific progress? Can population quality be thought of as a ‘socio-technical imaginary’?

3) Through what measures (reproductive, educational) are attempts made to enhance population quality and what have been the social consequences of these measures?

4) What kinds of effects do dividing categories of high/low or good/bad population quality have in governmental policies and programmes?

5) How do communities, families and individuals relate to notions of population quality and to governmental programmes aiming to enhance it? What kinds of differences do quality teleologies entail as they become embedded in local lives?

6) How are different forms of quality control of population taking place both formally and informally in varied societies, and in what way are they interacting?


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Session 2, 11.45-13.15

Gendered Imaginaries – Population Quality and Male Superiority in Vietnam
Tine Gammeltoft, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Family Planning and the Preference for Sons: Gender Ratio among Birth Cohorts in recent South Korea (1980s-present)
John DiMoia, National University of Singapore (NUS), Department of History & STS Cluster

The “Population Problem” and the Questions of Population Quality in Birth Control Research in Japan, 1945-1960
Aya Homei, University of Manchester

Session 3, 14.15-15.45

The “Political” Quality of Population in South Korean State’s Imaginaries of the Future and Population Policies from the 1960s to the Present
Young-Gyung Paik, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Department of Culture and Liberal Arts, Korea National Open University

Population Quality and Minority Rubber Farmers in Xishuangbanna, China
Janet C. Sturgeon, Simon Fraser University

The Fragility of the Elite – the problem of psychological ‘quality’ and the question of well-being among elite university students in Beijing
Susanne Bregnbæk, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Session 4, 16.00-17.30

‘Give me a Japanese egg’: Selection of eggs among Japanese infertile couples in transnational egg donation
Masae Kato, University of Amsterdam

Good quality – banking vitality in a Chinese sperm bank
Ayo Wahlberg, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Population management and reproduction in Singapore
Kristina Göransson, School of Social Work, University of Lund, Sweden