New Perspectives on Pahlavi Iran

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


Roham Alvandi


Roham Alvandi
London School of Economics


Room 23
Wed, 2016-08-03 08:45 - 10:15


by Pedram Partovi / American University

This paper investigates the efforts of political and intellectual elites to co-opt male associational life and confront the “problem” of youth alienation during the Pahlavi era. Members of male brotherhoods in Iran and the wider Persianate world had in past centuries embraced their detachment from the obligations and concerns of wider society. In fact, some believed that only through alienation was full commitment to the ethical and spiritual principles of their “orders” possible. These principles, in turn, could prompt members’ mobilization against perceived injustices and hypocrisy in the world. Ironically, a situation was created whereby those with the lowest social standing not only posed a threat to the interests of “mainstream” society but could also be charged with protecting those interests. Membership in these groups was fluid but for many unattached young men it at least became a “rite of passage” into responsible adulthood. In fact, these brotherhoods would give shape to prevailing notions of ideal masculinity in Iran. Historians have largely assumed that the processes of modernization (e.g. state centralization, urban planning, mass political indoctrination, and secularization), begun in earnest under Reza Shah Pahlavi (1926-1941), deactivated “traditional'' male associations (and their perceived threat to the formation of a “national community”). This paper argues that while the modern state apparatus was successful in eliminating many of the institutional supports for male associational life, the ideas behind it continued to resonate with Iranians. In fact, the elaboration of an official patriotism and the socialization of male citizens involved the re-deployment of the language and imagery of masculine virtue connected to the now defunct brotherhoods and gangs. Likewise, political mobilization for and against the state would rely on organizing alienated urban youth for success. This paper details the efforts of modernist elites to co-opt the historical ideals of masculine virtue and their “subversive” champions. Special attention is paid to official attempts to disrupt the ``traditional'' patterns of public life in the cities---including prohibitions on or police surveillance of public celebrations, the destruction of “troublesome” neighborhoods and “unhygienic” hang-outs, military conscription of the “uneducated,” the promotion of youth auxiliaries in party politics, and the establishment of other modern youth organizations like the Boy Scouts. Historians have studied these various phenomena (especially the hygiene movement of the 1920s) individually. This contribution seeks to tie these projects together as part of a larger effort to co-opt alienated youth for national development.

by Roman Siebertz / Bonn Univerisity

Unlike the political and intellectual elite, the lifes and life situation of the common people during the rule of Reza Shah have found relatively little attraction - a fact which can be explained by the lack of reliable data.
This presentation is intended to give a deeper insight into the economic situation of Iran and the Iranians at the eve of World War II by using data collected by a German institution, the Deutsches Auslandswissenschaftliches Institut (German Institute for Foreign Studies). Founded in 1940 by the German Government and Nazi party offices, this institution was formed for the training of regional experts for the requirements of the foreign ministry, secret services and the German economy. Aside from an extensive library, the institute also held a number of country specific dossiers, which, in the case of Iran, contain a wealth of data on the country's administrative, economic and social affairs. The information collected in those files allow us to gain a comprehensive overview over Iran's economic situation at the end of Reza Shah's rule, the progress of industrialization, it's effects on the daily life of the Iranian population, and not least on subjects such as the availability and price of commodities, inflation, and the living standard of average Iranians.

by Bianca Devos / University of Marburg

The reign of Reza Shah (1926-1941) marks a crucial turning point in the history of modern Iran, when centralized efforts were made to rebuild the state in terms of a progressive nation. Corresponding to the strong secular character of Reza Pahlavi’s rule, the official nationalism emphasized Iran’s pre-Islamic past. Thus, archaeology played an essential role in defining the national identity.
This talk examines the press coverage of archaeological field work during the 1930s, focusing on the excavations in Persepolis, the site of particular significance to the nation’s historical consciousness, and the Ettelaʿat, the country’s major daily at that time.
The period investigated here begins with the ratification of the Antiquities Law in 1930, which, after the abolition of the French monopoly, opened the country for field work by other nations. In the following years, the excavations in Persepolis attracted not only visitors from abroad, but also the Shah in 1932 and 1937.
Special attention is paid to the question of how archaeological excavations, at that time exclusively carried out by foreigners, were presented to the newspaper readers. During the 1930s the state gradually expanded its control over cultural and public life and used the press as a tool to disseminate the official propaganda. But it was during these turbulent years of general transition in Iran that also the press underwent a fundamental change towards professionalization and commercialization. By examining Ettelaʿat’s coverage of the archaeological activities, the features of Iran’s modern journalism will be highlighted too.

by G J Breyley / Monash University

This paper investigates some of the diverse forms of musical performance that entertained urban Iranian audiences in the early 1960s, as well as the social and historical conditions that shaped such entertainment. At this time, there were high levels of mobility among sections of Iran’s population, as working people and others moved from Iran’s regions to Tehran, often in search of elusive employment in the face of political and cultural change. This mobility contributed to new interactions among performers and audiences from different backgrounds and the sharing of conventions and tastes in music, humour and related aspects of popular entertainment. Drawing on historical research, ethnographic fieldwork and representations in popular films of the period, such as Gorji Ebadia’s 1960 film 'Bim o Omid' (‘Fear and Hope’), featuring the nine-year-old Googoosh, the paper examines 'ghazal khani', 'ruhowzi' and other musical practices. In this context, 'ghazal khani', the singing of Persian love poetry with free meter and slow theatricality, was a typical genre of choice for many men in Tehran’s more ‘traditional’ quarters, including its underworld. The young Googoosh impersonates the form, and the 'gardan koloft' with whom it was associated, very effectively in 'Bim o Omid'. This paper analyses the cultural context of Googoosh’s performance and the humour, specific to that context, that characterises it. By the 1960s, the popularity of 'ruhowzi', which had been a crucial form of entertainment at family celebrations, had begun to decline. However, its practitioners went to creative lengths to adapt their performances, at least superficially, to changing tastes and attitudes, and to keep 'ruhowzi' alive against all odds. 'Ruhowzi' featured improvisation and transgressive humour, with song lyrics often mocking those perceived as powerful, fashionable, hypocritical or wealthy. Again, cultural change and related shifts in popular humour and satire conditioned the fate of 'ruhowzi', also referenced in 'Bim o Omid'. Googoosh herself emerged in the early 1960s from a 'motrebi' environment, the home of 'ruhowzi' and related musical forms, and the social conditions of the period helped make it possible for her to develop some of the skills she gained in that environment and go on to become the most celebrated star of the ‘new’ world of popular entertainment. This paper throws light on the nature of those social conditions and some of the protagonists of their musical manifestations.