Discourses on Modernity and Revolution

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


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Iranian modernity has thrown eurocentric limitations of classical social theory into the sharpest relief. This has led to the dominance of micro-theoretical or narrative accounts of Iranian modernity that elide the need for a radical reconstruction of classical social theory away from its eurocentric foundations. This intellectual posture’s porosity to essentialism is reinforced by the anti-universalism of post-structuralist and post-colonial approaches. By contrast, this paper seeks to deploy Iran’s distinct experience of modernity and revolution to pinpoint the root cause of classical social theory’s eurocentrism, and sketch an alternative non-eurocentric social theory that comprehends historical difference as a universal feature of, and organic to, social development. Through a critical interrogation of Weberian and Marxian historical sociology the paper traces classical social theory’s eurocentrism to its ontologically singular conception of society, which furnishes ‘internalist’ conceptions of social change. The paper therefore argues for a social theory that is based on a plural social ontology that assigns a constitutive and generative theoretical status to international relations understood as the interactive co-existence of all historical forms of social coherence in mutually recognized integrities. The argument culminates in a novel conception of social change in which societies’ interactive co-existence enters into their individual existence and vice-versa. Consequently, variation in the experience and outcomes of modernity are recast as an organic property of the international dimension of social change itself. These theoretical arguments are outlined and substantiated through empirical investigations of two key episodes in Iran’s modern history, the Constitutional Revolution and the 1979 revolution.

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Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 the rhetoric of engineering and architecture have become increasingly pervasive in the conceptualization, description, explanation and prospection of religion and political culture in Iran. Whereas the pre-1979 revolutionary discourses were informed by medical diagnoses and prognoses of the “body-politic” and “body-social,” a cluster of spatial, architectural and engineering concepts have refashioned the analytics of governance and dissidence in the post-revolutionary period. Largely confined to urban planning and rural reconstruction circles in the prerevolutionary period, the ascend of engineering logic in the post-revolutionary period involved the discursive fusion of Islamic terms with the analytics of system engineering. This paper explores how the security concerns of the postrevolutioanry state have transformed Islam from a biopolitical discourse of dissidence to spatial practice of governance. It further demonstrates a paradigmatic shift from an organic and curative to a synthetic and constructional social imaginary and political logic.