Imagining Iran: Contending political discourses in modern Iran
Since the 1906 Constitutional Revolution that established the first representative government in the Middle East, all Iranian regimes have aimed to build a modern nation-state. But the main body of the literature depicts the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which resulted in the establishment of the Islamic Republic, as a failure of Iran’s struggle to modernize. This dissertation moves away from the false dichotomy of modernism versus traditionalism and instead conducts an in-depth survey of Iranian political discourses dating back to the 19 th century when Iran first encountered the West. Tracing competing interpretation of Iran’s political development describes and analyzes how the Iranian state elites have had competing ideas of Iran as a nation-state.
Inspired upon post-structuralist and post-colonialist literature written by Charles Taylor, Michel Foucault, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Edward Said, the research examines the social content of competing political discourses in Iran. A comparative analysis of pre-modern and modern texts illustrates that six signifiers show up in the representation practices and policies of all political discourses since the late 1800s. These basic signifiers are security, development, law, democracy, class equality, and Islam. By showing how these basic signifiers coalesce to form a particular official state discourse, my dissertation examines how contending discourses shaped the basis of Iran’s state building, nationalism, and foreign policies since the early 1900s.