عنوان مقاله [English]
Introduction: This paper reconceptualizes social transformations in post-war Iran by showing how the globalization of objects harnessed a qualitatively distinct form that politics took in Tehran between 1989 and 1997. It demonstrates that the “post-Islamist” liberal discourse of the reforms came into being in relation to the newly imported objects to which it referred and by means of which it proliferated. Conversely, the “Islamist” vocabulary of the second-generation Hezbollahies came into a new formation in relation to the same imported asymmetrical objects to which key segments of the impoverished population had no access. Thus, reformist and Hezbollahie discourses, along with the material things that afforded them, occasioned the rise of two unique modes of life that were not simply distinguished by different ideas, but also by asymmetrical global objects.
Methods: I use a significant array of primary and secondary sources, including relevant literature, politically instrumental media, and critical information secured through interviews in Iran. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 32 individuals in order to understand how objects from bodies to attire to foods were regularized in Iran between 1981 and 1997, and focused on the policies and contingencies that enabled their proliferation. Moreover, I conduct quantitative sampling of newspapers to explore the relations between the circulation of distinct objects and words. I analyzed the most important newspapers from 1977 to 1997 in Iran, including Kayhan, Jomhuri-e Eslami, Etelaat, Resalat, Hamshahri, Salam, Yalasarat, and Shalamcheh. The research design aimed to examine whether the increased circulation of certain public objects is associated with the increased circulation of certain terms, and whether the decreased proliferation of certain public objects is associated with the decreased dissemination of other terms. A time-frame was designated during which a positive correlation is shown to exist between certain objects and certain terms that either emerged simultaneously, or were eliminated together from the public. This analysis is central to understanding the links between words and their material referents, and their political implications in Iran.
Findings: The paper provides a material account of the emergence of two distinct political vocabularies that proliferated across Iran between 1989 and 1997. It explores how the circulation of asymmetrical objects, that is, newly imported consumer goods, afforded two different signifying chains. In the process, the paper illustrates how the inflow of global objects enabled the public circulation of liberal terms such as “freedom” and “plurality.” One was now “free” to choose between various soft drinks, attire, and foreign cars within the emerging “plural” markets. The more international objects were imported, the more liberal terms circulated through them, and the more these terms were disseminated, the more demand they generated for the import of foreign things so that the appearance and subsequent regularization of global objects were central to the formation of a post-Islamist liberal vocabulary in Iran during the 1990s. The same imported objects, however, engendered a different set of words and ideas among key segments of the impoverished population. The politico-Islamic vocabulary of martyrdom was mobilized in a new way in relation to the dispersion of the same international objects to which the impoverished had no access. Whereas the term “justice,” for instance, had been deployed in relation to vengeance against Saddam during the Iran-Iraq conflict, it now referred to closing the gap in the public distribution of asymmetrical foreign objects. In other words, while old Hezbollahie terms remained constant from the dawn of the revolution, the referents for these terms had changed so that the regularization of global objects in Iran was also central to the reconfiguration of the Hezbollahie vocabulary.
Conclusion: By exploring the relations between things and political discourses, the paper illustrated how the globalization of objects was central to the assemblage of a new form that politics took in Tehran between 1990 and 1997. In so doing, the paper focused on objects as distinct kinds of mediums that can afford, by means of their materiality, alternative systems of signs, and contesting backgrounds of shared meaning.