This article adopts a broader definition of census geography than is sometimes used. The more narrow definition, often used by statistical agencies, focuses on the spatiality of census taking and analysis, whereas this article also considers issues of census implementation and the techniques used by geographers and others in census analysis as well as the applications to which census data are put. It also moves beyond the descriptive to assess some political contexts of the census process.
A census is usually differentiated from a social or population survey by the fact that a census should enumerate (or attempt to enumerate) the total population of an area. Most population censuses are undertaken with a housing or household component as well. Since a census is normally taken at a single point in time, census data provide a cross sectional view of a population, in contrast to a longitudinal approach which collects data on individuals or households through time. There is some debate as to whether some of the mixed forms of registration and enumeration, which have replaced a full census in some countries, should be described as a census.
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