Population Indicators and the Politics of Expectations

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:30-12:20
RC41 Sociology of Population (host committee)

Language: English

In the sociology of quantification, the relevance of population numbers in democratic politics was among the earliest issues addressed. A basic assumption in this line of reasoning is that there is an inherently political dimension to what seems to be methodological or technocratic issues in the use of numbers in politics. The planned session picks up this argument by focusing on specific aspects of how population indicators are institutionalized and used in politics.


Population indicators operate largely hidden from public scrutiny―for example, they define the size of electoral districts or the nature of intergovernmental fiscal relations.  However, the processes by which population indicators become institutionalized as key elements of collective efforts to achieve larger social goals are still poorly understood. The same can be said about conflicts over alternative indicators.

  • How can we systematically describe institutionalization processes of key population indicators?
  • Which conflicts arise from divergent practices of using population numbers?


Expectations about the future are often symbolized and narrated in politics by using demographic projections. On the one hand demographic projections belong to the most reliable type of projections that we know. On the other hand, migration movements introduce a notoriously hard to predict element in demographic projections. It has been argued repeatedly that a projection of future demographic developments ― such as in shrinking societies ― will demotivate genuine political decision-making by suggesting overwhelming factual constraints.

  • How do population indicators operate as instruments of imagination?
  • How do demographic projections account for the irreducible uncertainty of the future?
Session Organizers:
Walter BARTL, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany and Reinhold SACKMANN, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Oral Presentations
Public Views of Census Data and Population Predictiors
Carol PORTEOUS, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Sarah CUNNINGHAM-BURLEY, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Public Knowledge of Population Trends and Preferences over Pension Policies. Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Germany, Spain and the United States
Antonio M. JAIME-CASTILLO, University of Malaga, Spain; Juan J FERNÁNDEZ, Department of Social Sciences, University Carlos III of Madrid, Spain; Jonas RADL, Carlos III University of Madrid, Spain; Gema GARCIA, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain
Research on the Change of Birth Cohort Size and Its Social Effect in Metropolis:the Case of Beijing
Yan MA, Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China