2010 Honorable Mention

Just One Child

Science and Policy in Deng’s China

by Susan Greenhalgh

(University of California Press, 2008)

The AES awarded an Honorable Mention to Susan Greenhalgh for her 2008 book Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China (University of California Press). Greenhalgh’s book takes an epistemic approach to the question of the origins of the one child policy in China. Locating itself within both governmentality studies and science and technology studies (STS), the book tells three stories: 1) a science story about how a specifically Chinese population science was born, what it took from the west, and what it invented; 2) a politics story about how natural scientists, operating within a defense ministry, became the key experts on population, displacing social scientists; and 3) a cultural story recounting how after years of Marxian ideology hostile to Malthusian ideas, Malthusianism and Club of Rome concepts became the dominant framework for thinking about population. Greenhalgh’s use of the tools of STS to analyze the policy process takes her far beyond simple ethnographic description to produce a sophisticated understanding of what happened in China’s population policy and how it happened.

In the end, the story she tells is a terrifying one—how a series of mundane transactions and struggles for influence, working with available scientific tools and a few borrowed ideas, generated a policy that caused tremendous human suffering and possibly cataclysmic demographic consequences. The documentation is meticulous, the interviews fascinating.