Engineering the Diaspora: claims to authority among privileged cultural producers in Tehran and California

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University of California, Irvine
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Janet Alexanian is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. Her dissertation examines Iranian transnational cultural production and the politics of representation.

    This paper examines the issue of authority in cultural productions, by investigating the cultural production and practices of “privileged cultural producers” within the Iranian transnational sphere. This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Tehran among a dowre of young Iranian professionals and students who meet regularly to discuss philosophical, political, and cultural questions. This ten-year-old group provides significant insights into the intersection between constructions of the “Iranian immigrant” in state and popular imagination, and representations of the Iranian nation as mediated through transnational flows of people and media. Ethnographic insights from their bi-weekly dowre reveal their narrative of "Iranian-ness" and the performance of their identity as “intellectuals” within increasingly transnational networks.
In order to understand their unique role within the broader politics of representation, the paper identifies the significance of elites and high skilled workers/the "brain drain" in the history of Iranian migration to the United States. As Iranian graduate students on F-1 visas have become a significant group within the recent wave of Iranian immigration to the United States, the Iranian state has become increasingly concerned with the consequences of this problem of “brain drain.” The informants I encountered in my research have had a significant presence online and within the diaspora. By drawing out the ways they have offered distinct representations (from the earlier wave of satellite television producers), I argue that the Internet has played a key role in enabling the expression of already authorized cultural producers.


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