Why this conference?

This conference is the product of a nearly two-year dialogue between three Iranian graduate students.  The conversation began during the 2009 presidential campaign season in Iran.

We were witness to an upsurge of protests across Iran in response to what was claimed to be massive electoral fraud.  Incredible scenes emerged — scenes that some compared to the street protests in 1979 that toppled the US backed Shah of Iran.

The protesters were soon labeled as outsiders. As outsiders to the newly re-conceived Iranian nation (outsiders stripped of the rights accorded to the citizens of a nation-state) many were subject to abduction, imprisonment, torture, and at times murder.

Through a long and at times bloody campaign, the government worked to push people back into their homes and out of the public sphere.  Although we have witnessed a dramatic decrease in the number of protests and protesters, the government has not been completely successful.  Many continue to take advantage of symbolic dates to take to the streets. Organizing has gone underground. Alternative avenues of protest, such as art, while always present, have become even more pronounced. And the web activity that was used to mobilize people in June 2009 has transformed into a vibrant collection of websites, social networking mechanisms, and online resources.  June 13, 2009 has transformed Iran once again by creating––albeit for a short-lived moment––a palpable possibility of change from the existing social order.

We want to focus on the significance of the moment of possibility that emerged in the nights before and after June 13, 2009.  Even though comparable in size, there seems to be a stark difference between the movement that appeared on that day and those that preceded the 1979 revolution.  Whereas the movement in 1979 initially involved a wide range of political factions adhering to different ideological leanings, the “Green Movement” of 2009 presents itself as all-inclusive and united. In this regard, some have referred to the Green Movement as a whole and/or their participation in it as “non-ideological.” Other commentators have characterized it as a “post-ideological civil rights movement.”

We convened this conference in order to further examine this claim by comparing the role (or lack thereof) of ideology in the “Green Movement,” on the one hand, with the prominent and pronounced role that it played in the 1979 revolution, on the other. Can we speak of the “Green Movement” as “post-ideological?”  What does it mean to be “post-ideological” and what are the political stakes involved in such a claim? Does a movement without a strong ideological backbone run the risk of demanding the types of western liberal reforms that pave the way for neo-liberal political and economic restructuring? At the same time, how might a “post-ideological” movement signal an act of collective memory that responds to and rejects the individual suffering caused by excessively rigid ideological political infighting? (for a thorough description of the conference themes, please click here).

We have brought together a number of distinguished scholars for a one-day conference to discuss these themes.  The conference will involve three extended moderated panels before ending in a plenary session designed to facilitate a conversation between all participants.  The conference aims to bring together scholars of Iran, students, the Iranian community at large, as well as all those interested in Iran and the conference themes in general.

Strictly academic conferences tend to highlight academic debates and push the political debates that are of interest to the general community to the background. We hope to reverse this trend. The themes of this conference are not merely academic.  We believe that the question of ideology and the self-identification of a movement–as well as notions of citizenship and how they are used by the state–are of key epistemological and strategic value.  The process undoubtedly shapes the end result. As keen observers of and participants in the processes of social change that are taking place in Iran and abroad, we want to take October 9th as an opportunity to reflect on that process.

We hope you will join us.  The key to the success of our conference will be your participation.