Panel 8K

Iranian Encounters with the Occident: Critical Perspectives on the Migration of Cultural and Intellectual Spheres

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: Lucia Sorbera, University of Sydney

Critiquing Memoir as a “Genre”: Intersectionalizing Lived-Experience of Transnational Iranian Women Writers

Shima Shahbazi, University of Sydney

Memoirs, autobiographical or life writings in general have been read as factual accounts of people’s lives which have been written from the very perspective of the subjects experiencing the world. Some critics consider women of colors’ memoirs as narratives of victimhood which get published by western publishers due to the political economy behind publications, some consider them as political accounts of refugee and immigrant lives which have utilitarian purposes, and some believe them to be critical micro-narratives of history attempting to fill in the gaps of the grand narrative of history. Regarding transnational, exilic and diasporic Iranian women writings, the memoir boom began after 9/11 with Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) and has continued since. So many of the scholarly writings on this literature have concentrated on the representation of identities and homeland in these works; however, the “floating signifier” of the Occident which feeds on a multiplicity of lived-experiences, has fashioned diverse epistemologies of the west, so much of which has been co-opted by the multiculturalism discourse to highlight the ideal, inclusive West. Focusing on Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad (2005) and Azar Nafisi’s most recent work The Republic of Imagination (2014), this paper aims to study the representations of the West and to question if memoir as a genre could be read as a binary which either critiques or contributes to the discourse of multiculturalism in the West.

Persian Travellers and the Occidental “Others” of the Nineteenth Century

Ehsan Golahmar, University of Isfahan

Due to socio-historical conditions of Iran in Qajar time (late eighteenth, the whole nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) the travels of Persians to the West grew rapidly, the result of which is the production of a vast number of travelogues about the West. Since each travel account is first and foremost based on the distinction between the Self (the traveler’s land) and the Other (the travelee’s land) it can be argued that the notions of “otherness” and “othering” play a significant role in the texture of such travelogues. Accordingly, the principal goal of this paper is to explore how the image of the Occident as the “Other” has been employed as a central “signifier” within these works. The critical study of the “othering” strategies used by Persian travel writers of such era implies that an array of different, even paradoxical, images of the West have been provided in such works making the West a “floating signifier” devoid of any fixed meaning or “signified”. To put it differently, the representations of the Occident in the travel accounts of different Persian travelers of that very time like Mirza AbuTaleb Khan, Mirza I’tesamodin, Mirza AbulHasan Khan Shirazi, Haji Pirzadeh etc. fluctuate between two poles of “Occidentophilia” and “Occidentophobia”. Respectively, it can be argued that the encounters of these voyagers with the Occident created diverse “epistemologies” or bodies of knowledge about that part of the world paving the way for the migration of ideas between Iranian and Occidental worlds.

Women, Suitcases, and Airport: Iranian Cinema and the Question of Migration

Farshad Zahedi, University of Carlos III de Madrid

Any film is not only a narrative, but also a way of showing how to desire. Accordingly, one of the prevalent themes which can be identified in some Iranian films is the desire for migration. However, the interesting point about those films is that a number of signifiers are juxtaposed to crystallize the very theme. Among such signifiers are airport, suitcases and women whose concatenation suggests a kind of problematization of that notion within Iranian context. Respectively, the main focus of this study is on how the practice of migration is challenged in several Iranian films like Farhadi’s trilogy (i.e. Fireworks Wednesday, A Separation and The Past) and Sepideh Farsi’s film Red Rose. The results of this study imply that airport is often represented as a symbolic “heterotopia” separating the “homeland” from the “foreign land”. It should also be emphasized that the “heterotopic” quality of airports in such films is augmented by the presence of women as central signifiers (since in most of these films there is at least one woman behind the practice of immigration) within the semiotic sphere of otherness discourse in such films. However, the most notable point apropos such films is that migration and encounter with the West as the “Other” are mostly conceptualized as the desire for prosperity, fortune and escaping the status que while, in effect, they turn into some kinds of “empty signifiers” devoid of any fixed clear-cut meaning.

The Effects of Push and Pull Factors in Home/Host countries on Immigration and Return Migration: The Case of Iranian Immigrants

Bahram Salavati, Iran National Population Studies Research Institute, Iran

There have been few studies so far which consider both push and pull factors of migration concurrently and they have mostly focused either on push or pull factors in home/hos countries. Accordingly, there are two central dimensions to this study to fill this gap. The first dimension examines how a sending nation’s macro level factors, which contains national socio-economic and political constructs form push factors of migration and also mediate expectations and experiences of its emigrants in their destination as pull factors to return migration. The second dimension examines how the host society’s institutional settings function as pull factors for immigrants and at the same time impact their lives as push factors to leave there or return to their home country. Considering all above issues, the analytic approach of this research is looking at immigrants of a single origin in multiple destination countries with contrasting institutional settings. To this end, the Iran and Iranian immigrants seem as a very relevant case.  This research examines two major research questions: what and how Iran’s structural factors or historical events act as push/pull factors and influence Iranians to emigrate from Iran or return to this country? What are the main institutional settings like migration and integration policies play as pull/push factors in Western receiving countries and influence Iranians’ decisions to migrate into these countries or go back to their home country?