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This article addresses the power of popular geographical ‘imaginations’ and ‘knowledges’ to foreclose public debate and, in the process, to reinforce often contentious policies or practices. It argues that historically, a prominent example of such a powerful geographical knowledge has been that of ‘ overpopulation’. The concept of ‘underpopulation’, meanwhile, has been much less discussed, but in this article I argue that it, too, needs to be queried in much the same way that critics have examined claims of overpopulation. I make this case first at a generic level, describing some of the main situations in which notions of underpopulation are popularly invoked, before substantiating it in much greater detail in one specific context: that of the television economy in New Zealand, a country, it is frequently said, with ‘too few people’ to support a publicly funded broadcaster. I show that in this particular instance the underpopulation thesis is backed by flawed arguments, but that none the less it is widely accepted and seldom countered, hence serving to protect its protagonists from disclosing in public debate the real reasons for the television policies they pursue and which the idea of underpopulation actively allows.

Keywords: New Zealand; Underpopulation; economics; geographical knowledge; television

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0467.2007.00238.x

Affiliations: School of Geography Geology and Environmental Science University of Auckland, Email: b.christophers@auckland.ac.nz

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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