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  • 2018TalebiPhD

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State power and revolution: toward a strategic-relational analysis of the 1979 revolution in Iran

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2018
Number of pages292
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This study is an attempt to understand how Islamists, especially a significant part of the Shi’a clergy, become the dominant political force in Iran in the 1970s, which was a decade of state transformation. Employing a conceptual toolbox and methods of investigation based on the Strategic-Relational Approach and Cultural Political Economy, this study introduces fresh perspectives, concerns, and concepts to reconstruct the key features of the complex revolutionary moment in 1979 and provide a periodisation of state (trans-)formations in Iran. It identifies two main periods: national state building (1848-1970) and expansion (1970-). By exploring the recontexualization and changing articulation of three discursive formations and taking note of different temporalities, this study identifies a ‘holy triad’ (justice, progress and independence) that sheds light on the development of the national state in Iran. I argue that justice is the master frame for conceptualising the changing significance of the other two. The thesis also argues that the political economy of oil became the triad’s primary point of crystallisation in the 1970s. Thus, an economic crisis that followed the collapse of the oil boom in the mid-1970s profoundly disoriented the state’s political and cultural legitimacy. This crisis created the setting for the rise and dominance of an innovative, Shi’ite messianic narrative. This was embodied in Khomeini’s role in Iranian politics. Therefore, this study explores the history of Shi’ism and the Shi’a messianic movements to identify the resources and capacities available to Khomeini to promote his counter-hegemonic visions. A further factor favouring Khomeini’s messianic movement was the history of (semi-)colonialism in the region and the intensifying Arab-Israeli conflict, which tended to confirm Khomeini’s narrative rather than the ideas of his rivals. In short, rather than re-interpreting the 1979 Revolution in the light of new historical findings, this study provides a spatio-temporally sensitive strategic-relational account of revolutionary conjuncture and historical specificity of the background to the revolution and its path-shaping impact on the present moment.