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Young and Defiant in Tehran

Young and Defiant in Tehran

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Young and Defiant in Tehran
    Book Description:

    With more than half its population under twenty years old, Iran is one of the world's most youthful nations. The Iranian state characterizes its youth population in two ways: as a homogeneous mass, "an army of twenty millions" devoted to the Revolution, and as alienated, inauthentic, Westernized consumers who constitute a threat to the society. Much of the focus of the Islamic regime has been on ways to protect Iranian young people from moral hazards and to prevent them from providing a gateway for cultural invasion from the West. Iranian authorities express their anxieties through campaigns that target the young generation and its lifestyle and have led to the criminalization of many of the behaviors that make up youth culture. In this ethnography of contemporary youth culture in Iran's capital, Shahram Khosravi examines how young Tehranis struggle for identity in the battle over the right to self-expression. Khosravi looks closely at the strictures confronting Iranian youth and the ways transnational cultural influences penetrate and flourish. Focusing on gathering places such as shopping centers and coffee shops, Khosravi examines the practices of everyday life through which young Tehranis demonstrate defiance against the official culture and parental dominance. In addition to being sites of opposition, Khosravi argues, these alternative spaces serve as creative centers for expression and, above all, imagination. His analysis reveals the transformative power these spaces have and how they enable young Iranians to develop their own culture as well as individual and generational identities. The text is enriched by examples from literature and cinema and by livid reports from the author's fieldwork.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0681-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Transliteration and Dates
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This is a book about the situation of young people in Iran at the beginning of the third millennium. The book concerns the battle over the right to identity. On one side, there is the state’s effort to construct a hegemonic identity for young people. On the other, there is the pervasive struggle by the young people to resist a subject position imposed on them from above. The book examines how young Tehranis struggle for subjectivity—in the sense of individual autonomy. It also deals with the generational divide in Iran between those who made the Revolution and those who...

  6. Chapter 1 Cultural Crimes
    (pp. 15-31)

    I start with myself.

    One cold night in late autumn 1984 I was arrested by basijis. I was eighteen years old and in the last year of high school. Early that night a friend of mine had called me and asked me if I could take him somewhere in my car. Later on, we were driving with another friend of ours toward Julfa, the Armenian district in Isfahan. He had arranged a party for the weekend and wanted to buy illicit home-made aragh (Iranian vodka) and wine from an Armenian acquaintance, who was known in Isfahan for his good-quality aragh...

  7. Chapter 2 The Aesthetics of Authority
    (pp. 32-56)

    In order to understand the criminalization of youth culture, we have to explore the aesthetics of authority, which have produced the notion of bidard youth. A crucial aspect of the post-revolutionary social order is the hegemonic discourse of self-abasement. An overwhelmingly religious Revolution has sought to sacrifice the self for a “higher value.” Its mobilizing ideology (as I shall show in this chapter) is grounded in an “aesthetic of the modest self” and a “culture of sadness,” both profoundly rooted in the Iranian/Shiite tradition. The order of things is designed to be sustained by the Iranian self through mechanisms of...

  8. Chapter 3 A Dissident Neighborhood
    (pp. 57-90)

    In 1994, Shahrak-e Gharb was a hot news topic among Iranians. A story, about which the official media and the state were entirely silent, spread through the country and even to outside Iran, where foreign broadcasts (of which BBC, Radio Israel, and the Voice of America were the most popular in Iran) sent the news back to Iran.¹ The story was about the mysterious death of a teenage boy (we shall call him Babak) at his birthday party in Shahrak-e Gharb. In the absence of his parents, he had arranged a party in their apartment in a high building in...

  9. Chapter 4 A Passage to Modernity: Golestan
    (pp. 91-121)

    As a teenager, in the early 1980s, I spent several hours a week in Passazh-e Sepahan or Passazh-e Chahrbagh Bala, in my home town of Isfahan. On Thursday evening these shopping malls were full of well-dressed young people with the “right” hairstyle. We strolled around to see and to be seen. While always in fear of the basijis patrolling around, we exchanged glances and a few words with girls. Sometimes phone numbers were passed between us. I obtained recent illicit pop music and met my friends in cafeterias. On the basement floor of the Passazh-e Chahrbagh Bala, there was and...

  10. Chapter 5 The Third Generation
    (pp. 122-137)

    Iran has a bomb. No, no. Not that bomb. This bomb is hiding in plain sight—in high schools, universities, and coffee houses. It is a bomb that is ticking away under Iranian society…. It’s called here the Third Generation.

    With these initial remarks New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman began his article in June 2002.¹ The article, which resulted in Friedman being barred from Iran, was about the increasing conflict between the state and the young generation. The article was translated into Persian and reprinted in whole or in part in some Iranian dailies. Although “the Third Generation” had...

  11. Chapter 6 Culture of Defiance
    (pp. 138-168)

    The second quotation above is from The House of Bernarda Alba, the famous play by Federico García Lorca. In February 2002, during the Fajr Festival, Khaney-e Bernarda Alba was played in Tehran. This short play is set in rural Spain at the turn of the twentieth century. The characters, all women, live in a cloistered household managed by a newly widowed mother with five daughters. Under the shadow of the Church and the tyranny bred from a need to protect the chastity of the family, the matron (Bernarda Alba) represses her daughters by enforcing an eight-year mourning period. She allows...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-174)

    In the first two chapters, I sought to describe the cultural politics in post-Revolutionary Iran. Besides being based on a machinery of surveillance, authority in Iran is primarily produced through a network of institutions (schools and rituals), social relations (parent/children relations), ideas (normative modesty), and aesthetics (the celebration of austerity). The power of theocracy is forged with the help of cultural institutions such as Sufism (rejecting worldly life), the omnipresence of the Karbala tragedy, and the phallocentric organization of space.

    The state has created an official regime of “display” and also of “consumption” (for example, the basiji style and Karbala...

  13. Coda
    (pp. 175-176)

    In September 1999, tired of my fieldwork, I flew to Isfahan to join my family for a weekend. My parents and the rest of my family were at my father’s country house, 300 kilometers south of Isfahan. I arrived in Isfahan at nightfall. I would join my family the day after. Nobody expected me in Isfahan, and I had no intention of visiting acquaintances or relatives. That night my home town became a “transit” for me. I left my hotel in downtown Isfahan to walk in Chahar Bagh (Isfahan’s Champs Elysées). It was a warm night, and Isfahanis, a people...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 191-192)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-204)
  17. Index
    (pp. 205-222)
  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 223-224)