The early nineteenth century has long been framed by historians as the beginning of an Age of Reform throughout Ottoman territories. The New Order (Nezam-i Cedid), commenced in 1792 and the Tanzimat (the “rearrangements”) which rebooted reform efforts in 1839, have usually been understood as two cumulative waves of state-led social reorganisation and administrative centralisation. These same decades marked a period, globally, in which a re-emergent knowledge-object of “population” came to dominate debates about state and society. In a variety of settings across the globe, these population debates were increasingly articulated with reference to Thomas Robert Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, and republished in various revisions up to 1826.
This paper considers how the recasting of “population” as the basis for a distinct demographic science and set of administrative practices was deployed and instrumentalised in the Ottoman Empire, within the context of these successive waves of social restructuring. To what extent does a “Malthusian” framework – of positive and preventative “checks” to population growth – make sense when mapped upon the discursive mobilisations of population in the Middle East during this period?
All Middle East