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Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong: Science, Class, and the Formation of Modern Iranian Society, 1900-1950

Cyrus Schayegh
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong
    Book Description:

    InWho Is Knowledgeable Is Strong,Cyrus Schayegh tells two intertwined stories: how, in early twentieth-century Iran, an emerging middle class used modern scientific knowledge as its cultural and economic capital, and how, along with the state, it employed biomedical sciences to tackle presumably modern problems like the increasing stress of everyday life, people's defective willpower, and demographic stagnation. The book examines the ways by which scientific knowledge allowed the Iranian modernists to socially differentiate themselves from society at large and, at the very same time, to intervene in it. In so doing, it argues that both class formation and social reform emerged at the interstices of local Iranian and Western-dominated global contexts and concerns.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94354-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Lyon, 1904. At the local university’s Faculty of Medicine, a number of young Iranians are preparing their doctoral theses. Among them is Amir Faradj Khan, who has been living in France since 1900. He has not arrived direct from Iran, but via Beirut, where he had studied at the French Medical College. Following his graduation, he stays on in France for another two years, working at the Val-de-Grâce Medical College. Eventually, in 1906, his itinerary comes full circle and leads him back to an Iran teeming with revolutionary fervor, initiating the end of a century of Qajar rule (1794–1921/26),...


    • Chapter 1 The Historical Background
      (pp. 13-31)

      Why, despite roots dating back to the nineteenth century, did modern science become truly significant only after around 1910 in Iran? Why did the popularization of science, the instruction of a large number of pupils and students, and modernist professionals’ practical application of scientific knowledge for state-led reforms only start at that point?

      In the wake of the Constitutional Revolution (1905–11), an emerging modern middle class argued that the earlier reformist focus on politics had failed. True change, the new creed held, would come about only through profound sociocultural reforms—and modern science was the key that would unlock...

    • Chapter 2 The Cultural and Discursive Dimensions
      (pp. 32-52)

      The analysis of science as cultural and economic capital in chapters 2 and 3 is inspired by Pierre Bourdieu. Although the complexity of the French sociologist’s work makes summaries difficult, an “internal logic and broader economy” underlie it.¹ What is more, his concepts—such as capital—“are pragmatically forged out of empirical research” and meant to be further used “as an instrument of work … for purposes of … concrete analyses.”² One of Bourdieu’s most valuable insights has been that social groups use different resources as capital: economic (“money and property”), cultural (“cultural goods and services, including educational credentials”), social...

    • Chapter 3 The Economic Dimensions
      (pp. 53-72)

      Chapter 2 studied the role of culture in the formation of the Iranian modern middle class. Chapter 3 examines the economic dimensions, focusing in particular on medicine, a profession that played a prominent role in the evolution of that class. I examine strategies instrumental to the development of modern physicians’ economic capital, as well as factors that weakened their economic position and that of the Iranian modern middle class in general.

      The formation of the modern middle class occurred only because and when cultural capital was complemented by economic capital. Cultural capital was a central but not sufficient condition for...


    • Chapter 4 The Dangers of Modernity: Neurology, Psychiatry, and the Effects of Modern Technology and a Modern Economy
      (pp. 75-109)

      Part II of this book will show that specific biomedical sciences were not passively received from Western countries. Rather, they were acculturated in interaction with—and thus shed new light on—conditions seen to be necessary for and problems believed to be created by Iran’s modernity. With roots in the later nineteenth century, these interactive processes truly took off in the 1910s. They materialized into three focal points, which I have called “The Dangers of Modernity,” “Biopower,” and “The Self-Reliant Personality.” All three centered on managing physical, mental, and so-called moral health. Individual and national vitality was the objective of...

    • Chapter 5 Biopower: Hygiene, Eugenics, Genetics, and Iran’s Double Demographic Problem
      (pp. 110-156)

      Since the late 1910s, Iranian modernists had begun to raise the specter of a two-tiered demographic problem. Its fundamental dimension was quantitative: beset by a high mortality rate, the Iranian population, estimated at 10 to 12 million (though in reality a bit larger), was considered too small.¹ A related dimension was qualitative: too many Iranians surviving into adulthood were not healthy enough—or, in the more strict sense of “quality,” were thought to suffer from a deficient hereditary disposition.² These apprehensions about Iran’s population framed modernist medical, sanitary, and hygienic debates and practices. This framework can be interpreted as that...

    • Chapter 6 The Self-Reliant Personality: Psychology, Pedagogy, and the Problem of Willpower
      (pp. 157-193)

      This chapter studies the interaction among psychology, pedagogy, and the modernists’ moralistic, yet scientifically grounded, view of the psychological profile necessary for individuals to function properly in modern society. I explore the interplay between psychology and pedagogy and examine why texts on psychology paid particular attention to willpower (erādeh).

      Willpower was believed to be not only the single most important factor in a person’s ability to exercise self-control and self-reliance, but also the key psychological quality in a nation. The trouble with the notion of willpower as the key to human action, however, was its vagueness, something that had troubled...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 194-198)

    The adoption of modern science in general, and biomedical sciences in particular, played a momentous role in the formation of modern Iran in the first half of the twentieth century. It was involved in two processes central to that country’s transition from a premodern to a modern society: the formation of a modern middle class, and that class’s attempt, with the state, to manage and accelerate modernity by subjecting crucial aspects of human life to an experimental medicalizing strategy.

    Perhaps the most fundamental trait common to, and linking, these two processes was the fact that both took form at the...

  8. Appendix. First-Time Advertisements by Physicians in the Tehran Daily Ettelā‘āt, 1927–1939
    (pp. 199-212)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 213-294)
    (pp. 295-320)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 321-340)