"Another Birth: Gender, Agency, and Activism in the Contemporary Iranian World"

First Name: 
Last Name: 
Institutional Affiliation : 
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine, USA.
Academic Bio: 
Philip Grant is a Ph.D. student in anthropology. He is currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork with Iranian women's activists in southern California. His work focuses on the possibility of new, secular forms of ethics emerging in the practices of these activists. He seeks to understand the character of these new forms of ethical life, and what relation they bear to the activists' upbringing in the Islamic Republic, and more generally to the changing nature of political and social agency in the history of modern Iran, including the way in which this agency has been gendered. In this regard he is also exploring the issue of translation as both an important practice of Iranian activists and intellectuals, and as a metaphor for understanding the transnational power dynamics within which they operate.

Programs of political, civic, and social action in modern Iran (mid-Qajar period on) have both accorded a prominent role to defining gender and gender relations, and been predicated on gendered understandings of human agency, such that female agency has frequently been simultaneously subordinated to male agency and its condition of possibility. In the programs and practices of various groups of post-revolutionary Iranian social and civil activists, however, there has been a marked shift towards a form of agency that is potentially ungendered even as these activists are acutely sensitive to gender issues. A transdisciplinary approach drawing on anthropology, literature, history, and philosophy can offer important insights into the shifting grammar of the concept of agency in the contemporary Iranian world. Drawing on remarks made to the presenter during fieldwork by a women's activist until recently based in Tehran, now in the USA; on similar comments made by an Islamic female activist to anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah in a 1991 ethnography of Islamic women in Tehran; and on Forough Farrokhzad's poem "Tavallodi Digar", it is proposed that the metaphor of "birth" (tavallod) provides a thread with which to navigate the maze of shifting articulations of concepts of gender and agency with activist practices in the modern Iranian world, exploring the extent to which contemporary activists have both divested themselves of the older gendered discourse, and yet remain linked to it in multifarious and surprising ways.

Academic Discipline : 
Time Period : 

Posted in