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Small Media Big Revolution

Small Media Big Revolution: Communication, Culture and the Iranian Revolution

Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi
Ali Mohammadi
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Small Media Big Revolution
    Book Description:

    The authors, who participated in the revolution, trace the use of audio cassettes and leaflets to disseminate the revolution, as they question the credibility of the established media.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8490-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prolegomenon
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    This book is not only an analytic account of the role of media in the Iranian revolution, but also the story of our—the authors’—lives. Having talked for years about revolution, we actually lived through one. It dramatically affected our own lives, but we were merely two of the millions involved in its process. Yet, if an essential element of the revolutionary mobilization in Iran was its spontaneous, unscripted, small-scale escalation, its movement of countless individuals into political agents, then our small actions were at some level a mimicry of the actions of others and were mimicked by many...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)

    The Iranian revolution ranks as one of the most tumultuous popular revolutions in history. It differed significantly from other Third World revolutions and movements of national liberation in several fundamental ways. Unlike the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Angolan struggles, for example, which were based on peasant mobilization in the countryside, the Iranian movement had an urban dynamic (Halliday, 1988). It was a popular and populist movement, its solidarity cutting across lines of class. It was strongly based on the traditional urban propertied class of the bazaar and the clergy, together with modern urban groups such as the salaried middle class, intellectuals,...

  6. I. Media, Modernization, and Mobilization:: Theoretical Overview

    • Chapter 1 Mighty Media, Big States, and Modernization: Big Identity Crises
      (pp. 3-18)

      The central logic of this volume is that media developments have radically altered our understanding of political dynamics, specifically, here, mass mobilization into a revolutionary movement. Media are frequently part of the structures of power of authoritarian states in the Third World, yet also the tools of resistance against those states. Looking at the dynamics of media use can help us understand breakdowns in regime policy and ideology but also the mobilization of alternate identities and resources to fight against the state, helping to explain how subjects of strong states become agents in their demise. The focus of this chapter...

    • Chapter 2 Small Media and Revolutionary Change: A New Model
      (pp. 19-40)

      The particular dynamics of the Iranian revolution, and the many unexpected political experiences of the past few decades, suggest a need and give us the basis for a new model of contemporary revolutionary mobilization that is significantly different from previous dynamics of revolutionary upheaval. Mediated culture has become part of the causal sequence of revolutionary crisis, as well as central to revolutionary process.

      All revolutionary movements are creative evolving processes that write their own scripts, even as they draw inspiration from older revolutionary movements. This is especially the case for the non-Western political movements that developed within repressive state structures...

  7. II. The Political Economy of Media in Iran

    • Chapter 3 Media and the State in Iranian History
      (pp. 43-58)

      By virtue of its location, Iran is, and always has been, a cultural crossroads between East and West. Iran was opened up to external influences in many different forms, but the force of Western influence became especially pronounced from the early Qajar period in the mideighteenth century on through the nineteenth century. Perhaps the essence of dependent development is that a nation has things done to it rather than doing things itself. For much of the early period of modernization in Iran, indeed through the nineteenth century, that was the situation, as rival foreign powers fought out their own struggles...

    • Chapter 4 Dependent Development and the Rise of Television
      (pp. 59-76)

      This chapter analyzes the growth of dependent development and monarchical dictatorship in Iran from 1953 to 1977, and the role played by media, especially television, in those processes. Oil rent (Mahdavy, 1970) financed the massive and rapid transformation of Iranian society under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, particularly from 1963 to 1975, based on the same dynamic established by the first Pahlavi shah: monarchical dictatorship using a highly centralized and bureaucratized state for rapid capitalist development and mimetic Westernization. Political considerations and the consolidation of power dominated the period after the coup.

      Despite the reinstatement of the Shah through the CIA-sponsored coup,...

  8. III. The Culture and Weapons of Opposition

    • Chapter 5 Oppositions: Secular and Religious
      (pp. 79-94)

      Having examined the state communications network and ideology, in this chapter we focus on the growing oppositional forces to the regime. We have argued that Iran had regressed to a dualistic communications structure, and now concentrate on the traditional social network of communication that centered on the bazaar and the mosque. Because of the repression of organized secular political groups and the censorships of publishing, this traditional network remained the only autonomous sphere of social life outside control of the state. We will examine the continued embeddedness and importance of religious rituals and locations within the daily life of the...

    • Chapter 6 Cultural Criticism, Secular and Religious
      (pp. 95-104)

      While there were many reasons for discontent inside Iran, from the lack of political rights and freedoms to the gross economic inequalities, one basic issue that was raised, by secular and religious figures alike, was the undermining of Iranian or indigenous culture, and the substitution of a superficial, commercial Western product instead of a thriving, dynamic cultural sphere.

      The clergy had long spoken out against the dissolution of religious culture and attacked dancing, music, and the cinema as sinful. Khomeini also popularized the argument that the threat of indigenous culture was part of imperialist plots against Iran. As early as...

    • Chapter 7 Language, Authority, and Ideology
      (pp. 105-118)

      However inventive the network of “small media” was in creating a political space, all the channels of communication in the world are no substitute for a language, a political discourse that is accessible to the people and articulates their sense of self and already-felt grievances and concerns. “Ideological space” operates in and through language, and in that sphere Khomeini and the clergy totally outmaneuvered the secular intellectuals. In many ways, the clergy must be seen as ultimately far more “political” than the secular groups, more practiced in talking to ordinary Iranians with a rhetoric honed over time, as well as...

    • Chapter 8 The “Heavy Artillery”: Small Media for a Big Revolution
      (pp. 119-136)

      The scope of the traditional oppositional network was extended through a highly innovative use of modern communication media and telecommunications technologies to create the world’s most successful example to date of alternate media mobilizing for revolution. The complex interplay and cultural resonances of traditional and modern, religious and secular, oral and printed, was what worked so well, not simply that small media were put to audacious new uses. Two main forms of “small media” were used in the Iranian movement: first, cassette tapes, which acted like an electronic pulpit (minbar), and second, photocopied statements, known aselamieh.

      The use of...

  9. IV. The Revolutionary Process

    • Chapter 9 A Communication-based Narrative of the Revolution
      (pp. 139-162)

      We provide in this chapter a narrative eyewitness account of the revolutionary mobilization that focuses on the particular junctures at which communications of various kinds played a critical role. We highlight small media as a public space of confrontation between opposition movement and the regime, small media as integral elements to the developing and maintaining of an alternative history and set of heroes to mobilize and foster solidarity, and small media as forms of political participation in and of themselves. As participants in many of these events, we also hope to share some of the atmosphere, the excitement and the...

    • Chapter 10 The Islamic Republic and the Process of Islamicization
      (pp. 163-180)

      The Islamic Republic was declared on February 11, 1979, under the charismatic leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, who rapidly proclaimed himselfvali-e faghih, the supreme jurist. It has since weathered many crises, including a massive bomb blast in Tehran in 1981 that killed many members of the Majles; the takeover of the U.S. embassy and the “hostage crisis,” the exchange of weapons for hostages under Irangate, and the still-frosty relations between Iran and the United States; a number of military coup attempts; declining oil prices; and, most devastating, eight years of intensive warfare with Iraq at a toll of 135,000 dead...

    • Chapter 11 A New Cultural Atmosphere
      (pp. 181-188)

      Suddenly in the summer of 1988 a new cultural atmosphere developed in Iran. Some analysts attribute the changes to the sudden acceptance by Khomeini in September 1988 of U.N. Resolution 598 and the cease-fire in the war with Iraq, after eight devastating years of conflict. The war had created a grim collective determination, a central national purpose, and a ready policy for the media. With the end to the fighting—which carried no immediate gains for Iran—there was an evident easing of cultural pressure, perhaps in recognition of the immense pressures and toll that the war with its urban...

  10. Conclusion: The Importance of the Iran Experience
    (pp. 189-194)

    The analysis of the Iranian revolutionary process shows how effective traditional channels of communication and small media could be in undermining a strong regime with universal mass-media reach, in mobilizing a massive popular movement in opposition to the Shah, and in providing long-awaited opportunities for political organization and political communication.

    The argument has shown the lacuna of communications focus in not paying sufficient attention to traditional/indigenous channels of communication that may express cultural continuity and identity. It has also suggested the immense political potential of new “small media” in developing public spaces in contexts where none seems possible, and the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 195-196)
  12. Glossary of Persian and Arabic Terms
    (pp. 197-200)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-212)
  14. Index
    (pp. 213-225)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 226-226)