Demodystopias in German scientific and mass-medial discourses of the beginning 21st century

Reinhard Messerschmidt, University of Cologne

The old fear of population decline still embodies a dominant narrative in contemporary German public discourses. Demographic change thereby functions as the key concept to expound its negative consequences in a basically uncertain future. In this context, deterministic population projections are oftentimes misunderstood as prognoses and associated with alleged inevitable conflicts of the future society. Consequently, they result in the dominant “Demodystopias” (Domingo 2008) of the present. These strongly political discourses oftentimes attempt to construct inherent necessities regarding several important social areas - from family policies to intergenerational conflicts in health care and pension systems up to the role of immigration. This culminates in positions e.g. that the German population will become extinct within twelve Generations as stated by the apocalyptical demographer Herwig Birg, who is still playing a role in German mass-medial and scientific demographic discourses, especially in recent population projections of the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). Via a genealogical discourse analysis I intend to reject such pessimistic positions and to reflect and deconstruct its underlying normative and epistemological premises. Distortions caused by the functional logics of the mass-media will also be included, as well as inner-demographical debates regarding the role of population projections. Michel Foucault’s legacy and its ongoing reception provide the fundamental toolbox for examining the conditions of the existence of these specific games of truth as well as connected power relations. This interdisciplinary project is based on several digitalized text corpora consisting of newspapers, newswires, press-kits of Destatis and demographic publications since 2000. The examination of the underlying formal demographic knowledge will be linked to specific production mechanisms in the mass media and the political instrumentalization of such “Demodystopias”. These play a crucial role in the present governmentality and combine Foucault’s classic dimensions of interest: knowledge, power and the care of the self.

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Presented in Poster Session 1