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Traversing the World

Panel XII-27, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • Co-Authors: Amin Moghadam
    This paper emerges out of our collaborative interdisciplinary project on “Tehranto” in Toronto, a city with the second largest diasporic Iranian population after Los Angeles. Approaching this subject from the disciplines of English Studies and Human Geography, our project will look at the ways in which “home” is constructed, challenged, and experienced by mapping the development of Tehranto over the past 40 plus years of Iranian immigration to the city. Through the lens of feminist geography and affect theories, we will explore the ways in which Tehranto, as both a geographical space as well as an idea, offers the fantasy of a “return” “home.” This fantasy is complicated by the fact that the diasporic’s imagined return is, in some cases, to a nostalgic reimagining of pre-Islamic Persia, or an idealized pre-1979 monarchical period. Further, for many second and third generation Iranians who were born and raised in Toronto, the idea of Iran as the site of an originary “home” is mediated through the stories and memories of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. In addition, the recent protests in response to the death of Mahsa Amini and the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement have revealed the diversity of the Iranian population in Toronto, their ability to make themselves visible at the urban scale and to use the city as a space for their political and social claims. The research questions with which we approach our study include: How are Tehrantonians shaping their personal narratives of immigration, of home, and of belonging in relation to Iran and Toronto? How have the different waves of immigration from the early 1980s to the present time helped shape the development of Tehranto as a conceptual space embedded within an emotional geography of places and circuits of exchange in the city of Toronto? In what ways do the successive waves of immigrants to this city imagine their relationship to Tehran, to Toronto, and to each other? Our presentation draws upon a series of observations in the various places of sociability of Iranians in Toronto as well as interviews conducted with members of the diaspora. We will also reflects on our respective different personal lived experiences in this city.
  • "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is a Persian-language American independent film made by Ana Lily Amirpour, an Iranian diasporic filmmaker. The film’s main character, a chador-wearing unnamed figure referred to as “The Girl,” has been widely interpreted as a symbol of Muslim feminism and seen as a rejection of Islamophobia and a promotion of religious tolerance. However, this paper challenges this interpretation and argues that it is not representative of the actual situation of Iranian women. Instead, I propose a psychoanalytic interpretation of the film. Drawing from the Freudo-Lacanian concept of repression, I argue that the Girl’s chador represents the ideology of the Islamic regime and its suppression of Iranian women, while her actions symbolize female desire, power, and agency. This distinction between the chador and the character wearing it offers a more nuanced understanding of the film and its portrayal of the struggle for female empowerment and agency in Iran. The current dominant reading of the film oversimplifies the complex relationship between Iran, Iranian women, Islam, and the chador—a full-body veil that covers the entire body, except for the face and hands—in contemporary Iran. The compulsory hijab law in Iran is partially responsible for this misunderstanding. This law requires women to wear a veil in public. This has led many scholars to think that the movie is about empowering women and rejecting the restrictions of the chador. But this view needs to consider how complicated the situation is for Iranian women and how the chador signifies oppression. The character of the Girl offers two types of signifiers, which I argue are paradoxical. On the surface, she wears a chador, a nationally specific symbol of religious patriarchy and the ruling ideology. However, when it comes to the character under the chador, the Girl contradicts the way the Islamic Republic’s ideology pictures women inside the domestic space and only in relation to the male members of the family, such as the father, husband, or son. She embodies female desire and sexuality, something the Islamic regime does not want or recognize for a chadori woman. A psychoanalytic approach to the film offers a solution to this paradox.
  • This presentation compares the different expressions and formations of collective feeling during and in the aftermath of the 2019 October uprisings in Lebanon in order to explore what public modes of belonging become prominent at different moments of crisis in Lebanon and how the affective public of the nation is reconfigured and renegotiated across these historical moments. While the uprisings were initially triggered by a grossly unjust tax law, the monumental nature and stubborn endurance of the movement reflected the crossing of an affective threshold that burst open the doors to a radically new felt reality and historical present in Lebanon. The eruption of what many called the ‘October Revolution’ reflected an affective breaking point with the decades of corrupt, kleptocratic political rule, and the series of crises that have gripped Lebanon since the abrupt end of its fifteen-year civil war. This paper, which is part of a larger project that examines how affective and temporal regimes are imbricated in the dynamics of perpetual crisis in Lebanon, is invested in exploring how processes of mediation are implicated in collective affect, and how collective affect becomes entangled with systems of power. To this end, I examine a range of viral figures and practices that animated the uprisings and that circulated during the subsequent economic crisis to explore the relationship between visceral (or embodied) and mediated forms of collective affect and the kinds of politics they enable. From the iconicity of the “kick queen” photograph to the videos of mothers protesting for unity, to the viral images/videos of gas and bakery queues, these examples offer a rich site to compare how processes of mediation are reciprocally implicated in the production and circulation of public feeling.
  • The rise of international Video on Demand subscription services in the Arab world have introduced diversified representations of the region and its communities in transnational programming while equally affecting the existing local production industries alongside shifting regulatory and distribution models. Since 2020, international subscription platforms featuring Egyptian content have increased production opportunities for community-based writers and directors, offering decreased local censorship and a wider distribution base with sustainable financing production models (Peer, 2023). Their presence has altered local industry functions, widened the scope of representation in character formation and narrative storytelling, and presented an absence of justification to non-agreeable local and global audiences; simultaneously highlighting contradictory and complementary understandings of tradition rooted in cultural codes. Although the productions bear no obligation to please its audience, the burden of baring these representations (Mercer, 1994) is ever present surrounding notions of gender, religion, and class structure, and nationalism. While transnational broadcasters cater to transnational audiences, including diasporas and to a lesser extent the local population, they push the limitations on representation and distribution, simultaneously evading and conforming to national media systems (Jenner, 2018), bound by a domestic oligopoly (El Khachab, 2021), and a heavily surveilled production industry due to extensive media censorship laws. In 2022, and after the streaming of the Arab adaption of the film Perfect Strangers, Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation, Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media, and the Committee of Electronic Media Officials in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries demanded subscription services abide by the countries’ societal values, pressuring for the end to production of what they deem and describe as offensive content. In Egypt’s case, licensing regulations monitoring distribution rights and content regulations were introduced last September. It remains unclear how these decisions could affect the direction transnational platforms have taken in underlining global-local relations (Straubhaar, 1991) covering the Arab national and Egyptian identity, alongside reviving, and competing with the local production industry. The proposed paper focuses on highlighting the expansive and potential threatening roles Netflix and Shahid VIP play as industry shapers facilitating changes in representation and production, in conjunction with altering distribution and regulatory models in Egypt.
  • This research discusses the potential of an authoritarian monument in becoming a space of public discourse and symbol of solidarity through the case of Azadi tower in Tehran. In so doing, it opens up discussions on the construction of spatial imaginaries as a category of cultural heritage. In the light of the recent protests in Iran and the unprecedented wave of visual, graphic and artistic production that has accompanied the movement, Azadi tower has gained yet another meaning and signification. Azadi tower has had many lives: a monument to Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi (Shahyad) built in 1971, a stage of official processions under Pahlavi, a public space of revolutionary gathering in 1979, a monument to the 1979 revolution (Azadi), a public space of protest in 2009, and a symbol of resistance today. With the case of Azadi, I suggest that in as much as the patriarchal and autocratic monumental space generates profound violence and problematic architectural heritage, there still exists the potential for the generation and production of new heritage through spatial imaginaries of the same spaces; a generative and speculative monumental space. Furthermore, the popular activation of autocratic monuments, as an undoing of cultural heritage, creates an intersectional identity where the margin becomes the center, the patriarch becomes the matriarch, and the historical becomes fictional. In other words, the patriarchal monument of the past is reborn as the feminist monument of the future. With a research approach that relies on piecemeal depictions of this space rather than its grand narrative, using architectural documents, municipal reports, sketches, state-sponsored posters, but also contemporary visual production, the methodology of this work is also an attempt in diverging from the traditional archive-based, western theory-framed architectural research in non-western contexts to open the grounds for alternative voices. In this sense, architectural heritage opens up new possibilities through not just its various lived experiences, but also through its yet-to-be-lived subjective imaginaries.