Sunniva Engh: "Scandinavian aid to South Asian population control, 1950-1995: Modernity misconceived”

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Engelska parken - Rausing Room
  • Website
  • Organiser: Department of History of Science and Ideas, and the research programme "Medicine at the Borders of Life"
  • Contact person: Solveig Jülich
  • Seminarium

The History of Medicine Seminar

Sunniva Engh, University of Oslo: "Scandinavian aid to South Asian population control, 1950-1995: Modernity misconceived”

In the early post-war period, international concern over the developing countries’ population growth increased, triggering fears of resource shortages, rise of communism, conflicts and war. A solution was sought in population control aid, i.e. international efforts to lower the birth rates of the world’s poorer populations through influencing social policies and promoting the use of contraceptives. While most Western countries found population control too controversial, Sweden and Norway became the first donors of population control aid, and raised the population issue in international organisations such as the UN. I argue that the Scandinavian interest in population control was an expression of a particular Scandinavian vision of modernity, marked by a belief in political, social and economic planning, and the role of science and experts. Scandinavian politicians and aid administrators saw population control as an area where the countries had a particular role to play, and I relate this to the countries’ earlier domestic experiences with population policies such as eugenic sterilisation, and a prioritisation of the conceived good of the collective over the freedom of the individuals. The book’s main emphasis is on the meeting between Scandinavian ideas and the realities of India’s family planning programme, covering two programmes that were funded by Sweden and Norway and their actual work. Population aid to India fitted well with central Scandinavian ideas, combining social and economic planning and development, and was also driven by an increasing wish to reach women with development aid which became more prominent during the 1970s. In practice, however, the Indian family planning programme was overwhelmingly a national programme, run by Indian authorities, and influenced by contemporary events such as the Emergency. In addition, the book examines population control programmes that Norway and Sweden supported in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan during the same years, showing pioneering efforts and variations in results. Furthermore, I examine changes in international population and development discourses during the period, and whether and how these translated into changes in practice in the field. While the distance between Scandinavian and South Asian goals and ideas in family planning was considerable, so was the distance between international discourse and practice in population programmes.

Sunniva Engh is Associate Professor of History, affiliated with the interdisciplinary strategic research area UiO:Nordic. Engh holds a DPhil in Modern History from the University of Oxford (2006), with the dissertation 'Population Control in the 20th Century: Scandinavian Aid to the Indian Family Planning Programme'. She also holds an MPhil in Economic and Social History (2000), University of Oxford. Engh was a postdoctoral fellow with the project 'Den norske fredstradisjonen' at the Forum for contemporary history, IAKH, University of Oslo from 2006. She was Fulbright Research Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Relations at the City University of New York. From 2012, Engh has been a senior fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS). At IFS, she worked at the Centre for Asian Security Studies with the Projects 'Myanmar in Indian security policy' and 'China in Indian strategic thinking'.