The proposed panel focuses on the transitional, and potentially path-breaking, nodal points in contemporary Iran’s social history and political life, with a particular focus on the recent social and political movements, intellectual debates, and cultural shifts in the country. Each paper in this panel examines distinct and far-reaching sociopolitical and intellectual trends that continue to reshape contemporary Iran, despite the country’s rulers. They address the implications and lessons of the grassroots movements as well as public debates in Iran for the larger geopolitical shifts in the country. The panel proposes a shifting discourses in the country —namely, the expansion of non-violent movements and civil disobedience, the widespread demand for economic justice that cuts across the religious-secular divide, increased labour union activism, centrality of women’s movement, and the use of the Internet and social networking platforms. Mojtaba Mahdavi starts the panel with problematizing the complex and dialectical relationship between Iran’s structural and agential factors and how these two parallel and interrelated courses of action help or hinder democratization in contemporary Iran. His paper highlights the micro and macro processes through which the “birth of democracy from within” can be understood. Siavash Saffari explores the relationship between Iran’s public religion and socio-economic life, focusing his analysis on the “intersection of public expressions of faith and the rising demands for social and economic justice” in Iran. Victoria Tahmasebi outlines Iranian women’s leadership role in creating multiple sites of virtual civil societies. She underscores the epistemic shift, in women’s online activism, from “one dimensional articulation of the socio-political, to a conjunctural approach wherein different forms of inequality are read as realities-events that emerge and evolve with one another.” Peyman Vahabzadeh’s paper engages with the activism of select groups of younger generation activists whose works enable a co- and cross-articulation of social justice and democratic life. He paper concludes that “these actors adhere to a plurality of subject positions, advocate multiplicity of approaches, and employ minority views.”
Despite Iranian regimes excessive filtering of the internet, censoring and arresting online activists and bloggers, and issuing harsh prison sentences for these individuals, Iranian women’s online activism continues to target the social, political, cultural and economic inequalities and environmental crisis. These activities have brought the political mobilizing force of cyberspace, as well as the role of women in these movements, sharply into focus. This paper will propose that Iranian women are leading the way in creating multiple sites of virtual, and highly mobile “civil society” where the electronic flow of ideas and information is shaping the radical democratic aspirations of Iranians in content, method, philosophy, and aesthetics of resistance.
My research on selected social networks, created by Iranian women’s organizations and activists indicates Iranian women appropriate these platforms to imagine new radical, yet non-violent forms of activism as well as to craft a range of social-networking strategies to attain a variety of goals. Employing feminist critical content analysis, this research argues that Iranian women are moving away from one dimensional articulation of the “socio-political,” and are instead adopting a conjunctural approach wherein different forms of inequality are read as “realities-events” that emerge and evolve with one another. Therefore, these virtual platforms have become transient civil societies offering the participants a chance to identify, highlight and examine the intersections of various patterns of inequalities and form virtual conversations around these issues.