2015-2016 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to announce

Politics of Gender-Exclusive Parks in Tehran

Shahrzad Shirvani
(PhD Student, Architecture and Environmental Design, UC Berkeley)

Friday, Oct. 23, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hal
University of California, Berkeley
The 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution imposed official Shi’ism on a secular social context remaining from the Pahlavi Monarchy. However, the Revolution which was followed by the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the death of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini (1989), plunged the Islamic Republic into a crisis of national identity and self-representation. As a result of global flows of information a gap of ideological detachment started to emerge between the Islamic government and the new generation youth, whose mindsets were now far away from the ideologies of the Revolution. Therefore, the new generation youth gradually started to become a threat for the stability of the Islamic state forcing them to rethink identity. In response, Tehran municipality in terms of a semi-state institution in the civic realm, started to play a major role in propagating an invented legacy of “Iranian-Islamic Culture and Identity”. Evidently, the broader goal was re-appropriation of history, culture, and social norms of living. Consequently, architectural and urban projects started to emerge that were focused on cultural and social spaces of entertainment and recreation. However, I argue that these spaces are forming “spaces of exception” in the socio political context of the capital city.

This paper attempts to explore one of these spaces of exception, which exclusively targets women. In recent years, the inauguration of women’s parks in Tehran has produced new zones of gender segregation as well as new public spaces in the city. In these bordered and fenced spaces of freedom women can choose what to wear and what to do regardless of strict rules of mandatory hijab in public. Therefore, the Islamic state enforces gender segregation in terms of new codes regarding where and how women’s bodies should be deployed. Moreover, these spaces are institutionalizing a new moral citizen subject considered as ‘pious Iranian-Islamic woman’ who is planned to represent the Islamic Republic’s identity. Interestingly, the educational sections of these spaces focus on what this newly shaped citizens should be like. I argue that within this context of exercising freedom, “identity” and “self” are constantly dispossessed to form what the sovereign power considers a “good citizen”.

Speaker Bio:
I was born in Tehran, received my B.A. in Architectural Engineering in Tehran’s Azad University in 2005, and obtained a Master of Architecture degree from the same university in 2008. In 2013, I got my Masters of Science degree from the Department of Architecture at University of California, in Berkeley. Currently, I am a third year PhD student in the program of Environmental Design and Urbanism in Developing Countries. My main focus is on socio political life of urban public spaces in cities. My dissertation explores the ways in which ‘leisure’ as an institution of social change and urban transformation is creating and recreating urban spaces in Tehran that contribute to new understandings of ‘public space’ as well as ‘freedom’ in a Middle Eastern context. My attempt is to analyze the notion of freedom conveyed by the Islamic Republic regime in constructed ‘spaces of leisure’ and shaped through everyday urban practices of the new generation youth. My main interest and focus is on power relations and the transformation of cities, shared urban memories, and nation-building processes under the authoritarian regimes.

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