Fatal Misconception: Family Planning and Population Control

Last week I read Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard UP, 2008). It’s a critical look at the population control movement focussed largely on the second half of the 20th-century, and discusses some of the early heroines of that movement, such as Margaret Sanger, as well as the role of major Western-led organizations, such as the UN. It’s well worth a read, even though it gets more bogged down in conferences, meetings, and deals than many will have time for. You can read Nicholas Kristof‘s review of it from the New York Times Sunday Book Review right here, which I’ll turn to in a minute.

To many, the term “family planning” will call to mind individual choice and rational decision-making about when to have children, as well as how many to have. To perhaps others, “population control” will send a shudder down their spines as they recall forced sterilization and even extermination, and the control of their lives by others. The “many” referred to above are, by and large, the affluent, the white, the Western (or all three), while the “others” are the poor, the not-so-white, and the non-Western (and often all three). In the course of the 20th-century, family planning and population control became two-sides of a perceived crisis in the growth of population, a putative crisis especially for The West as they saw themselves usurped by The Rest. Continue reading