Working Group

Anthropological demography of Europe (completed)

Mission statement

Anthropological demography asks how population processes and socio-cultural practices affect each other. Demographic models that do not acknowledge the importance of the cultural embedding of behaviour tend to reduce cultural meanings and practices to a list of traits that are added to standard institutional and individual background characteristics. In this representation of culture, behaviour is guided by a system of discrete rules and beliefs into which individuals have been socialised. Most anthropologists depart from these interpretations of culture, contrasting them with a view of cultural constructs that constitutes a framework in which experience is anticipated, interpreted and evaluated. Incorporated into anthropological demography, this approach attends closely to the perception of the actors involved in the production of vital events such as births and marriage in the life course, to transregional and transnational movements of individuals and families, and to health and ageing.

To date, the original insights into the study of demographic behaviour that anthropological demographers have provided have focussed on regions outside Europe. The WG aims at producing comparable theoretical and methodological insights for the European demographic landscape and to encourage comparative work with researchers who study other regions of the world. The WG will focus on the meaning and practices involved in demographic events and on how they interact at the local, national and global level. The working group will also pursue the integration of qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand demographic behaviour. Research design, data collection methodology and interpretation will involve a mix of detailed anthropological and in-depth studies, together with fine-grained socio-demographic analyses of individual life courses and macro population patterns.

The WG on the Anthropological Demography of Europe addressed among other things the following questions:

Theoretical questions: Which concept or concepts of culture are employed in research on fertility, migration and health and how are they employed? How should the role of culture be addressed at the macro level and at the level of the actors involved? What features of culture need to be considered? How can they best be operationalised and integrated into empirical research on changing patterns of family formation and fertility? How can we elucidate processes that statistical science has termed “selection”– seeing it as strategic anticipatory behaviour – when we model determinants of demographic behaviour? How is the concept of culture applied to other demographic topics such as death, health, aging and migration? Is the concept the same as that applied to family formation and fertility?

Empirical questions: What can we say about differences in the culture of reproduction in contemporary Europe? What are the causes and consequences of such differences? To what extent do they differ from other regions where similar patterns of behaviour can be observed? Can culture help explain the very low fertility in South and East Europe of the late 1990s? What can we say about the cultural aspects of migratory movements, whether we use notions such as national or regional identity or a more conventional framework as “push/pull”? To what extent do migrants to Europe strategically plan births, marriages, and migrations across national and international boundaries as policies governing rights to work and life change? How cultural meanings attached to health and morbidity do determine the health behaviour of people, and how does this, in turn, determine mortality and morbidity patterns at the population level? What are the cultural meanings attached to aging, how do they differ between regions, and how do they determine the behaviour of the older population in Europe?

Methodological questions: What are the best anthropological methods to employ in demography and their level of integration? How can anthropological fieldwork observations, in-depth interviews, focus groups, large-scale survey and census data, and registers be employed and integrated to best interpret current demographic patterns? Are there standard quality criteria for integrative research of this kind and how should they be developed? What distinguishes anthropological demographers from demographic anthropologists regarding their research questions and methodological approach?

The Working Group was initiated by Inge Hutter and Laura Bernardi and was subsequently chaired by Inge, Laura and Ernestina Coast.