Gender and the Production of Islamic Urban Space in Iran
January 29, 2015 7:15 PM   Subscribe

What does an Islamic urban space look like? This question has dogged intellectuals and authorities in Muslim-majority lands for centuries, but in recent decades has acquired a renewed sense of urgency amid the emergence of modernizing Islamist political movements. These groups have not only articulated new visions of the public sphere, mass politics, and economy, they have also increasingly found themselves in positions of authority to shape the cities, regions, and lands they work in. As these groups have found themselves in control, the revolutionary mandate (and widespread protest slogan) to imagine a politics “neither East nor West, but Islamic” has taken on new meanings, forcing leaders long focused narrowly on legal or constitutional change to recognize the more diffuse and institutional nature of power, and how much the production of space is a part of it.

In this short essay, I will discuss some of the changes that have occurred in Iranian urban space in the 20th century with a particular focus on their gendered implications, before briefly introducing two dominant approaches to public space in contemporary Iran.
posted by standardasparagus (3 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This is fascinating, thank you for posting it!

"The Islamization of public space in Iran can be understood as a collapsing of the public and private spheres. The enforcement of rules of morality in public space, for example, was a virtual extension of the family’s control of individuals’ bodies in the public sphere. It follows that if families feel that the public sphere maintains such control over individuals, however, objections to women’s presence and participation in that sphere lack merit."

Conceptions of privacy are culturally-situated/dictated.
posted by mareli at 7:13 AM on January 30, 2015

mareli--I think I had had a different take on it unless I am missing the point. What I read was that for women the Islamization of public space ( and public culture) made it easier for women to move into some new areas of experience, separate but (partially) equal, to the extent that the movement was not a significant threat to basic Islamic values/beliefs. As was illustrated in the recitation of the two experiences in the essay's closing. I also found it quite interesting.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2015

Wonderful essay, many thanks for posting it. (Only two comments?! Maybe you should have added a cat video...) Here are a couple more excerpts:
Despite initial hesitations, leaders began to articulate a vision of Islamic governance that institutionalized women’s rights, and traditional patriarchal restrictions within the family—often articulated in Islamic idiom—began losing their potency. As women who had taken part in the revolution began asserting their rights within an Islamic framework to protest, study, and work with government support (including a massive literacy campaign targeting women across the country), massive changes and shifts in power ensued within the family structure. For conservative families, the imposition of gender segregation in particular was a reassurance that it many ways opened the doors to millions of women to education and work opportunities, and produced a dramatically novel understanding of women’s relationship to public space that was far more expansive. Whereas in 1979, less than one percent of women finished university and around twelve percent were in the workplace (around one-third of whom were underage child carpet weavers), less than forty years later about fifty-five percent finished university, a rate higher than in the United States. Statistics suggest that the percentage of women in the workplace, meanwhile, has increased significantly, and possibly tripled.

. . .

[Tehran mayor] Karbaschi’s approach imagined citizens of the Islamic Republic as an ungendered composite, and he saw his role as fostering participation and access to public space. This was quite different from the dominant approach to planning in the 1980s, which saw Iranians through the lens of the gender binary and imagined mixed public space to be fraught with the potential for heterosexual interaction.
And by all means read the last couple of paragraphs, the "anecdote from a park."

I've long been fascinated by Islamic cities; for anyone else who might be interested in the topic, here's a nice short bibliography. I'll add a couple of books in my collection, Abraham Marcus's The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century and Paul Ward English's City and Village in Iran. And on the topic of Iranian women, Haleh Esfandiari's Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran's Islamic Revolution. (Which I think of as a "recent" book, but I now realize it's eighteen years old....)
posted by languagehat at 12:01 PM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

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