- Publicly Intimate Online:Iranian Web Logs in Southern California
Iranian identities are increasingly being articulated through the Internet, especially through online sites for reflective narration and discussion called Web logs, or blogs.1 On these publicly displayed, often anonymous Web pages, individuals record their personal experiences, thoughts, anecdotes, and opinions. Blogs are emerging as an analytic site for the examination of emergent forms of techno- or cybersociality and, more generally, constitute a space for studying the relationship between new technological emergences and expressions of affect.2 Within the frame of cyberculture as a regime, technosociality can be understood through its productive features, that is, the practices, values, rituals, and social relations it fosters.3 As an emerging field for social action, cyberspace is constantly in process and changing, challenging the stability of concepts of the self, intimacy, identity, and community.4 This article is concerned with the ways technology itself shapes specific forms [End Page 134] of sociality, and, in doing so, how it challenges views that present cyberspace as a "liberating" or "unrestricted" new ground, or as a separate and self-contained realm. The technologies pertinent to blogging are, however, new; as such, one is forced to consider how they allow people to negotiate particular forms of power, representation, and knowledge.
In the process of teasing out these new forms of sociality, reconfigurations of notions of "public" and "private" are encountered. Cyberspace, and blogs in particular, obscure the boundary between these notions. The vast open space of the Internet offers the anonymity of the public realm while, at the same time, enabling intimate encounters through uniquely private engagements. While the boundary between the public and private realm is never neatly contained, expectations and norms about appropriate behaviors and modes of sociality are articulated in relation to such a separation. Norms surrounding intimacy and disclosure highlight the delicate awareness of this separation, as does the surveillance and rigid control of social action in public spaces in the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the same time, immigration flows and sociality in cyberspace obscure and transform this context, enabling both challenges and reinforcements to these norms. This article explores Iranian online interactions and the blogs of several Iranian immigrants in Orange County, California.5 Just as Iran and the United States are connected through transnational flows, the separation between the "online" and "offline" world is tenuous. The flow of cultural artifacts, norms, and ideas between these spaces is constant. Blogs allow us to consider the "making public" of private lives and, in this case, how the cultural constructions of the public and private are reconfigured as these subjects themselves are refashioned by new technologies. Notions of "insider" and "stranger," for example, take on new and dynamic meanings within these overlapping contexts of Iran, immigration, and cyberspace.
In order to explore the various configurations of public and private, this article examines the ways that these realms have been conceptualized in Iranian Studies and the meanings associated with these formulations in relation to the social and political context of Iran. I present this and the specific experiences of my informants as a background to my ethnographic observations of how these concepts (and the norms that relate to them) are undermined or reinforced differently in Iran, in the Iranian diaspora, and in cyberspace. Just as the effects of cultural, social, and political shifts are dynamic, so is the relationship between individuals and the norms they embody, enact, contest, and subvert. The narratives in this study highlight the multiple complex subject positions individuals occupy in [End Page 135] a constellation of historical, cultural, social, and political contexts and the ways these formations interact with the social norms they naturalize. The concept of Iranian social norms does, however, need to be historicized, and to this end, I would like to draw attention to the position of my informants both historically and within Iranian society.
Internet use is rapidly increasing both in Iran and among Iranians across the world. Currently, there are well over 100,000 blogs written in Persian and over 5 million Internet users in Iran (out of a population of 70 million).6 While Internet use in Iran is largely a...