The period that has come to be known as Iran’s 'long 1970s' (Alvandi, ed., 2018) was characterised by an unprecedented economic boom that went hand in hand with the Pahlavi regime’s increasing emphasis on Iran’s political and ideological equidistance from the two opposing camps of the Cold War. These developments profoundly influenced the way Iran’s regional and international integration was conceived of. The literature on the period reflects these trends, however, it has so far mostly focused on Iran's relations with Western powers, highlighting in particular the emergence of an 'anti-western Occidentalism' (Shakibi, 2020). The question of Iran's sense of belonging to a regional entity remains much less explored, and little attention has been paid to the place of the Middle East in late Pahlavi conceptualisations of Iran’s spatial emplacement.
The present paper addresses this gap in the existing scholarship by taking as its starting point the observation that the Pahlavi monarchy used the term ‘Middle East’ in a rather inconsistent, if not contradictory manner, sometimes conceiving of Iran as belonging to the Middle East, sometimes flatly rejecting the very use of the term (Zia-Ebrahimi, 2011).
In order to comprehend these contradictions, the paper uses an analytical framework that combines hermeneutics with critical discourse analysis (CDA) to illuminate the variations in the meaning and uses of the term. In so doing, the paper traces the gradual occurrence of a discursive shift during the period under review: little by little, the preoccupation with whether or not Iran is part of the Middle East gives way to considerations of a belonging to other, wider politico-spatial entities such as the Asian continent or the 'Third World'. Based upon this, the paper shall then analyse the ways in which this discursive shift was interrelated with the political realities of the period, both at the level of Iran’s international relations and in regards of domestic affairs.
Being situated at the intersection of two distinct fields, namely intellectual and IR history, this paper draws on various primary sources such as newspapers, official Iranian publications as well as diplomatic documents, to explore how the very notion of Iran’s being part of a particular regional entity shaped the foreign policy of the Pahlavi regime during the 1970s, while also becoming a key element of the monarchy’s attempts at grounding itself within a well-defined ideological framework.