Modernizing the public space: gender identities, multiple modernities, and space politics in Tehran
Metadata[+] Show full item record
After the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, surprisingly, the presence of Iranian women in public spaces dramatically increased. Despite this recent change in women's presence in public spaces, Iranian women, like in many other Muslim-majority societies in the Middle East, are still invisible in Western scholarship, not because of their hijabs but because of the political difficulties of doing field research in Iran. This dissertation serves as a timely contribution to the limited post-revolutionary ethnographic studies on Iranian women. The goal, here, is not to challenge the mainly Western critics of modern and often privatized public spaces, but instead, is to enrich the existing theories through including experiences of a more diverse group. Focusing on the women's experience, preferences, and use of public spaces in Tehran through participant observation and interviewees as well as GIS spatial analysis, I have painted a picture of the complicated relationship between the architecture styles, the gendering of spatial boundaries, and the contingent nature of public spaces that goes beyond the simple dichotomy of female-male, private-public, and moderntraditional. Following the feminist approaches and based on my unique status as an Iranian woman and researcher, I critically examined the now classical position regarding the role of public spheres and modern spaces in building democratic societies. Part of the critique is that ideals of equality can exist alongside practices of exclusion and repression. These boundaries of exclusion are often gendered. The central theme of this study is to demonstrate that abstract analytical tools and methods merely replicate binary distinctions and mask the fact that public/private and modern/traditional do not map in simple ways with respect to gender. Meidan-e-Tajrish, Sabz-e-Meidan, and Marvi Meidancheh in Tehran accommodate a visualization of gendered space. The process by which Iranian women attach symbolic meanings to those public spaces offers ethnographic insight into the mutual construction of gender identities and public spaces. The contrasting urban locations, different design styles, and distinct social activities of the selected case studies provide a useful comparison between what appear to be distinctly modern or traditional. In what urban planners call modern spaces, Iranian women feel a greater sense of self, more freedom, and a sense of equality with men. While traditional spaces are male dominated, those places help users relate to their cultural identity, evoking a feeling of nostalgia. These places connect them to their past, just as modern spaces connect them to their future. This moving back and forth along with the social construction of public spaces that occurs in between highlight the two-sided relationship between structures and agencies in social processes and the process that each society creates its own space. Findings suggest we use caution in presuming gender as an essential category. Binary categorization of modern/tradition and public/private in urban studies should be carefully validated as such categorizations often vary across space and time boundaries.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Review of literature -- Methods: Geo-ethnography of public spaces -- Research settings -- Data analysis and findings -- Discussion and conclusion -- Appendix A. Interview guidelines