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