SURF

Eyal Mazor

Allan's Carrying Capacity: The Political Origins of Neo-Malthusian Scientific Thinking in Colonial Zambia

Although considerable scholarship has debunked neo-Malthusian myths of “overpopulation,” its specters and tropes continue to be invoked in environmentalist, anti-immigration, and ‘development’ discourses. However, little historical work has been done on the origins of these discourses. My project focuses on the genesis of a particular concept that raises specters of “overpopulation” — ‘human carrying capacity’– whose various conceptual, political, and historical blind spots I will seek to elucidate and contextualize, and whose textual origins in late colonial Zambia place it at the cusp of a scientific revival of neo-Malthusian thinking. By understanding the political origins of this term alongside the interventions that it was invoked to justify, this project may provide an intriguing way to combat the still hegemonic ideas of Africa as a continent in a perpetual crisis of “overpopulation.”

Message to Sponsor

To me, SURF offers a threefold opportunity: First, it has provided me the occasion to do primary source archival research crucial to my own project; an opportunity that very few undergraduate researchers have. Secondly, this fellowship has given me the opportunity to go out and actually see and experience the places I have only read about and imagined until now in the course of my research. And lastly, and perhaps most emphatically, SURF enables a researcher like me to produce work that could shed an authoritative light on the murky and highly contentious terrain of contemporary understandings of Africa. Certainly, this is more than any undergraduate could hope for.
  • Major: Geography
  • Mentor: Nathan Sayre, Geography