The Rhythmic Beat of the Revolution in Iran

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Cultural Anthropology, Volume 25, Issue 3, p.497–543 (2010)


This essay investigates three methods for reading topical events, in this case events in Iran in 2009. Timing, as in music, is part of the trick of Iranian (as also other) politics, In Part I, breaking news is read in terms of historically and structurally informed social theory, with an eye to how civil society and public spheres are structured. There is an aesthetics to these spheres, not simply a calculus of interests or a space where rational debate can be abstracted from the civil society into a political public sphere. The (dis)harmonics of the Karbala Paradigm and the Islamic and pre-Islamic reference system of the 1979 revolution have been rescored in the aftermath of the June 2009 elections. Part II draws out the technical infrastructure, both low tech and hi tech, within which social and cultural action happens and civil society is restructured. It calls attention to the way in which the Green Wave was a confluence of civil society movements of women, labor, students, and journalists, among others. Iran is seen as a key test bed for struggles over the control of the Internet, as state control becomes more flexible, targeted, and pervasive. Part III plays with a futuring method—like the scenario methods used in industry and the simulation techniques used in the sciences—to plan for and evaluate alternative social logics that can play out in uncertain and underdetermined futures. The scenario method, to be used iteratively with several axes, helps clarify where there is need for better mapping of the networks of the players and their “small worlds” (“six or two degrees of difference”) cross-faction relationships.