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Young and Defiant in Tehran

By Shahram Khosravi

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Contemporary Ethnography

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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Note on Transliteration and Dates

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

It happened in Tajrish Square early one afternoon in September 1993. Tehran was burning under the summer sun. At this time of year, the daytime temperature can reach 45° C in the shade. Years later, in September 1998, I visited this place in north Tehran in the early afternoon on several September...

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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...

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Chapter 1: Cultural Crimes

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pp. 15-31

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...

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Chapter 2: The Aesthetics of Authority

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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...

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Chapter 3: A Dissident Neighborhood

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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...

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Chapter 4: A Passage to Modernity: Golestan

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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...

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Chapter 5: The Third Generation

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pp. 122-137

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...

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Chapter 6: Culture of Defiance

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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...

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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...

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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...


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pp. 177-189


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pp. 191


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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-221

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pp. 223-224

I thank Professor Gudrun Dahl, whose intellectual guidance is present on every page of this book. I am also grateful to Professor Ulf Hannerz for his generosity and concern for my academic career. He read the entire manuscript and made insightful remarks. Mark Graham, teacher, colleague, and friend...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206814
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220681

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Contemporary Ethnography