6+1 Questions

25 October 2021, 0955 EDT

Name Of The Book… And Its Coordinates? 

Jennifer D. Sciubba, ed. 2021. A Research Agenda for Political Demography (Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, Massachusetts, USA: Edward Elgar)

What’s the Argument?

We cannot understand contemporary international relations without understanding the demographic shifts going on around the world. Demographics – the characteristics of populations, such as age and location – are not just a backdrop for other, supposedly more important, forces. Population plays a key role in the outcomes of armed conflict, economic development, and political reform. The collection aims to show just how essential demographics are to the study of world politics.

Tell Us Why We Should Care.

Demographics shape the character of societies. In lower-income countries, fertility and mortality trends mean exponential population growth. There are more mouths to feed, youth to employ, and people to govern. In many countries, although the amount of available land is staying constant (or degrading), the number of people who inhabit it is doubling or tripling. Population growth and increased density mean increased vulnerability to environmental disasters and higher chances of internal displacement. Environmental and economic crises too often turn into civil conflict, which then pushes populations into other communities and across borders. This in turn creates a new set of problems for both senders and receivers. Until we better understand the role demographic changes have on politics, we can never completely make sense of these crucial issues. This volume is a chance to bring political demography to a new audience and demonstrate why we must incorporate the study of demography into the study of world politics.

Why Should We Believe Your Argument?

We use advanced demographic and political science methods to demonstrate how population shifts affect politics. Many of the chapters use age-structural modeling, a method intended to serve as a quantitative, exploratory, long-range forecasting tool for foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence analysts. Using this method, several authors describe how states in North Africa and the Middle East had falling fertility, large youth cohorts, rapid urbanization, and expanding education in the run-up to the Arab Spring. This combo led to revolts in the past, such as in Weimar Germany and in Iran in 1979. The model also indicates that demographic dynamics in Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan today may lead to future conflict.  Other chapters use public opinion data to show how depopulation and shifting ethnic composition contributed to a surge of populism and political realignment in the United States and United Kingdom.

Why’d You Decide To Write It In The First Place?

 There is now a critical mass of political demography scholars, but their work tends to be overlooked. This volume gives us a chance to pause, capture the state of the field, demonstrate its relevance for other fields and chart a course for advancing research. Overall, we find more questions than answers. I hope we will inspire a new generation of scholars to join us and show established scholars how attention to demographic dynamics can illuminate their own studies of conflict, development, health, gender, and a host of other areas.

What Would You Most Like To Change, And Why?

I wish I’d had more space to expand upon the interactions between demography and the environment. While several authors mention environmental links (to issues like health or forced migration), once chapters were assigned for all of the major age structures and larger themes like conflict and economic development, we just didn’t have enough room. There are actually close ties between environmental scholars and political demographers so that could be a book in its own right.

The +1: How Difficult Was It To Get The Book Published?

Relatively easy, although that was due to the groundwork I’ve laid over two decades. I’ve made close connections with scholars in my field and related ones by attending their panels and introducing myself and by reaching out over email when I’ve read something they’ve published. I’ve also served in leadership roles in the International Studies Association (including chair and program chair of the Political Demography & Geography Section). I’ve said yes when people asked favors of me. I was approached by Edward Elgar to write the book (on recommendation from a colleague) so the actual process of getting the proposal accepted was easy. So, too, was the process of getting authors. Because of the friendships I developed over that time most people I asked to write for the book said yes immediately.

Edited volumes can be a slog because each chapter author is committed to a dozen other projects. I did the best I could to be speedy with my tasks. That, plus a group of fantastic authors and a whole lot of luck, meant that mine was a better experience than many other book editors have.