State Policy and Culture in the Islamic Republic

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


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Theater has been used during centuries to serve different political and social objectives across the world. It is well known to scholars in performance studies that local context could strongly influence a play's staging and interpretation. The sociopolitical situation and the influence of the dominant political powers on art are among the most decisive determinants of the context. This paper tries to examine the latter issue in a new venue-- in the country of Iran, a country with a century-long history of performing "Hamlet", under three different political regimes that claim to be democratic. Since Iran has never been a colonial country, modern theater had been imported by local elites as a cultural tool for teaching democracy. The paper analyses three significant Iranian appropriations of "Hamlet" in three major political periods of Iranian history, and tries to discover how state policies affect the function of theater: For example, how are the "theater within theatre" episode, or Hamlet's madness, utilized for social commentary in a situation of totalitarian control and surveillance, and how is the representation of power and female figures on stage functioning for or against democracy. The presentation relies on three Iranian Hamlet case studies. The current study uses a descriptive method and analyses this matter through qualitative data collection, semiotic studies, and personal interviews. This paper is part of an ongoing research for a PhD Thesis at the Institute of Theater Studies, Bern University, titled: "Performing Hamlet in Modern Iran (1900-2012); Effects of Major Iranian Revolutions on Performing Hamlet".

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Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, significant changes have overtaken laws pertaining to marriage and the family in Iran. The Family Protection Law of 1967 was abrogated and replaced by new legislation meant to “strengthen the institution of the family,” and to protect women and motherhood.

Serious economic problems, unemployment, rising poverty, political and social uncertainties, the internet and the social media have helped further aggravate the situation which in turn has led to a significant decline in marriage and a sharp rise in divorce. The rise is further pronounced in Tehran whereby for every three marriage there is one registered divorce. The social consequences of this problem have led to a significant rise in the number of single parents, and an increasing number of unregistered co-habitations. Regardless of the condemnation or the denial of the Islamic Republic, what has emerged is the concept of “White Marriage,” where men and women voluntarily choose to cohabit without formal commitment or fear of social and religious stigma, or its political consequences. It is known as a “White Marriage” since there is no marriage involved and individual birth certificates in which marriages are registered remain a clean slate. While the government is well aware of “illegal co-habitations,” it has been unable to turn the growing trend, and no serious action has been taken to prevent co-habitation other than condemnation.

This paper aims to inquire into the social and political consequences of the “White Marriage” in the Islamic Republic. Who are these unmarried couples and what are their backgrounds? Why have they selected such a life style and what explanations do they provide their parents and relatives? How do they cope with the social stigma, and why do they maintain such a life style? Is this a natural phenomenon towards modernity, emerging out of social necessity and maturity or is it a rebellion against the oppressive measures of the regime, or perhaps a blind imitation of the west? Preliminary studies show that nearly all unmarried couples come from diverse walks of life yet most are born after the revolution, nearly all have university education, and are well aware of their new unorthodox life styles.