Violence, State formation and memory politics: an off-site ethnography of post-revolution Iran

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How can violence be studied when access to the field is impossible?

Fieldwork is a trademark of ethnography, which is fast becoming a key practice in qualitative research across disciplines. In conflict and post-conflict zones, social scientists tend to negotiate access to fieldwork through an international community of experts and practitioners. But empirical investigation proves more difficult in repressive regimes that are closed or restricted, and exert (tight) surveillance over academics and the civil society. The power-knowledge apparatus draws some boundaries for researchers to respect in order to keep access to the field: thus, subjects that fall outside the domain of ‘researchability’ disqualify for ethnographic study. Consequently, research is (re)oriented by opportunities of access to the field.

The study of violence (its mechanisms, effects, genealogy and everyday experiences) in repressive States thus remains a blind spot, with protracted effects on the understanding of societies that are built on this history of violence.

Based on the case of Iran, this pioneering research seeks to change our ways of studying ‘locked’ societies, by adapting our methods and episteme to the global circulation of norms, data and people. Through the anthropology of the State and violence, archive ethnography and the use of new technologies, it experiments trans-disciplinary methods in the production of empirical study off-site, in order to fill a substantive gap in scientific knowledge on the first decade following the Iranian Revolution (1979-1989), and how its legacy reappears in todays’ politics of memory.

By classifying and reviewing available sources in a digital “counter-archive”, the project will establish a genealogy of post-revolutionary violence and state formation in Iran, and make this documentation available for further research. It will also document and analyze the memory politics linked to this foundational past and how they redefine the boundaries of political participation.

Project director: Chowra Makaremi, research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, CNRS, IRIS




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