Maryam Alemzadeh (Princeton) Siavush Randjbar-Daemi (St Andrews), author of The Quest for Authority in Iran: a history of the presidency from revolution to Rouhani (2017), give a talk for the Middle East Centre Friday Seminar Series.
Chaired Professor Edmund Herzig (Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford)
Scholars have shown the dictatorial function of the parallel political system of the Islamic Republic: although the authoritarian office of supreme leadership and the security apparatuses strictly limit the quasi-democratic institutions (i.e. the presidency and the parliament), they avert any criticism of the government’s malfunction to the latter, thereby saving ideological face among dedicated supporters. In this functionalist explanation of the dual system of power, the qualitative difference of the two sides’ working mechanisms goes unnoticed. In this talk I address the organizational dynamics of the nonconventional section of state in Iran, with a special focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. I demonstrate that behind the security apparatus Panopticon and its capillary power lies a “revolutionary” institution—one that tolerates and encourages revolutionary direct action, thereby sustaining a sizable popular base over the years. The popular base is not necessarily brainwashed to serve the state. Rather, I argue, institutions of power keep it committed and interested by authorizing spontaneous, direct action, even though revolutionary times are long passed.
Maryam Alemzadeh is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University's Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies. She earned her PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago in 2018, and has previously worked as the Grinspoon Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. Maryam is a historical and cultural sociologist of revolutions, state building, and grassroots militias, specializing on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Based on detailed historical findings, she writes about cultural practices as a sociologist, and about contemporary US-Middle East politics as an Iran expert. Her work has appeared in the British Journal of Middle East Studies and Foreign Affairs, among other places.