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The possibility of perfection: Living utopia in contemporary Mashhad

Theobald, Simon

Description

This thesis examines how overlapping legacies of ancient, medieval, modern, and finally Revolutionary Islamic and Iranian utopianism come to be experienced amidst quotidian social moments in contemporary Mashhad, the second largest city in the Islamic Republic. I argue that this legacy can be defined as a commitment to, a concern for, and a belief in, the possibility of achieving perfection or completion, not as something abstract and remote but instead as a palpable and achievable experience....[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorTheobald, Simon
dc.date.accessioned2020-08-31T00:56:08Z
dc.date.available2020-08-31T00:56:08Z
dc.identifier.otherb71499398
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/209124
dc.description.abstractThis thesis examines how overlapping legacies of ancient, medieval, modern, and finally Revolutionary Islamic and Iranian utopianism come to be experienced amidst quotidian social moments in contemporary Mashhad, the second largest city in the Islamic Republic. I argue that this legacy can be defined as a commitment to, a concern for, and a belief in, the possibility of achieving perfection or completion, not as something abstract and remote but instead as a palpable and achievable experience. Struck by my interlocutors pervasive use of the term 'complete' or 'perfect' [kamel], alongside related terminology like 'ideal' [ideal] and 'the best' [behtarin], to describe a myriad of social phenomena, these concepts became a window through which to analyse utopia as a social form as it was experienced and expressed in the everyday. Using the organising metaphor of refraction, I hold that we can sense the legacies of utopianism not necessarily as a linear or one-to-one connection to historic precedent, but rather as inheritances that run through the social life of my interlocutors, still very much alive even as they are subtle. Each chapter in this thesis explores a different way in which and is a meditation upon how this utopianism refracted through the social, beginning with cultures of exceptionalism, through wealth creation, education, sound, sincerity, and finally, time. This thesis responds to two areas of contemporary anthropological debate. The first is material that has analysed what is collectively typically referred to as the anthropology of the good, including content relating to the stuff of virtue, ethics, and the eudaimonic (e.g. Fassin, 2008; Laidlaw, 2002, 2014; Robbins, 2007, 2013). My specific intervention is to encourage us as anthropologists to conceptualise not just how our informants understood what a good life was, but what the best life was, a seemingly small, but I contend, consequential difference. Secondly, this thesis provides an alternative to pre-existing major anthropological works on Iran over the past decade (e.g. Khosravi, 2008, 2017; Mahdavi, 2009; Varzi, 2006) or so. This corpus of material has focused largely on paradigmatic concerns of resistance to the Islamist polity, particularly among youth populations, and the failure of the government to create Islamic subjects. In contrast, this thesis recognises the limitations of such approaches, and looks to go beyond them. In exploring the theme of utopia and its legacies, I make a comment not on the durability, success, or lack thereof of the Islamist government, but rather look to the impact of elements that stretch back past the Revolutionary moment into a deeper history. Drawing on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork over two visits to Mashhad between 2015 and 2018, this thesis is one of the growing body of contemporary ethnographies of Iran based on research conducted outside the country's capital, Tehran, and only the second to be written in Mashhad (cf Olszewska, 2015). I conducted research predominantly among members of the middle class living in Mashhad's developing western suburbs, particularly in those regions to the west and north of Park-e Mellat, a major recreation site just to the west of the city's ring road. Much of this research took place in the homes of the families of a handful of key informants who lived in those suburbs, and bridged a gamut of informants from children, to parents, to grandparents. Nonetheless, I prefer not to not to define or delimit my work by a specific sub-community or group, following instead the theme of perfectionism as it spread out in diverse directions.
dc.language.isoen_AU
dc.titleThe possibility of perfection: Living utopia in contemporary Mashhad
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorMerlan, Francesca
local.contributor.supervisorcontactu9511181@anu.edu.au
dc.date.issued2020
local.contributor.affiliationCollege of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University
local.identifier.doi10.25911/5f4e23aa4d314
local.identifier.proquestYes
local.identifier.researcherIDhttps://orcid.org/0000-0002-4670-2089
local.thesisANUonly.authora4b878d2-05c7-4a9b-90a8-676ef8abda0b
local.thesisANUonly.title000000014770_TC_1
local.thesisANUonly.key81ea91cf-b7a4-0ae1-71a2-ba119feb3949
local.mintdoimint
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