Report by Anne Hendrixson
Director, Population and Development Program (PopDev)
Amherst, MA, USA
From 27–29 May 2016, 28 scholars and activists convened for the successful Old Maps, New Terrain: Rethinking Population in an Era of Climate Change meeting at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Meeting participants included an international group from 11 countries (Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Kenya, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, and the US). We were 18 scholars from multiple areas (gender studies, geography, feminist political ecology, public health, environmental studies and critical race theory) and ten activists from a variety of movements (land and water rights, immigrant rights and reproductive, environmental, food and climate justice). The group also included four undergraduate student assistants from Hampshire College, as well as our meeting coordinator.
We organized our inquiry into six in-depth sessions: 1) Old Maps, New Terrain introductions and framework; 2) Mapping the population (control) landscape; 3) The political economy of today’s population control industry; 4) Charting the landscape of climate change and militarized development; 5) Mapping the political landscape of dispossession; and 6) Anticipatory visions for the future. At the start of each session, a panel of participants gave framing remarks and then we together considered the connections and disjunctures they revealed in the current geopolitical terrain. We mapped a broad definition of population control that is both context-specific and localized, and useful in identifying the multiple and replicable ways that neo-Malthusian thinking shapes policy, philanthrocapitalism, scholarship, popular culture and activism. This mapping allowed us to see linkages between issues and movements; made our analysis intersectional and stronger; shifted participants’ relationships to the issues and one another; and allowed us to find important possibilities for connections in our scholarly and activist work moving forward.
One of the problems we encountered was expanding our networks to African scholars and activists. Africa is a central to many neo-Malthusian discourses in international development and family planning, and while we prioritized including African scholars and activists to address this discourse, we were only partially successful. We invited five people after extensive research, reaching out to colleagues and asking for recommendations. Two exceptional scholar-activists came: one from Kenya and the other from South Africa, as well as a first generation Ethiopian-American who is a reproductive justice activist within the African diaspora. This partial success highlights the divides in academia that privilege US and European scholars over those from countries in Africa and makes it harder to connect.
Participants expressed strong interest in contributing to a special edition of a journal or anthology based on the meeting analyses and frameworks. Several have committed to co-pursuing resources for a writing retreat to support collaborative authorship of articles. Participants also expressed their desire to see some sort of network formed on the basis of this first successful collaboration. In addition, PopDev will publish a series of DifferenTakes issues papers on: population control as white supremacy, Jadelle in Bangladesh, and why feminist political ecologists should care about population control, among others. Participants indicated an interest in translating these and other PopDev materials into Spanish and Bangla. Finally, PopDev filmed seven interviews that feature pairs of participants, which will be edited and made available through PopDev social media (https://www.facebook.com/popdevprogram / @).