This dissertation explores the spatial manifestation of fear and fun in the urban public and private spaces of Tehran in the postwar era. From a comparative and historical perspective, the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution shifted the secular authority of the Pahlavi Monarchy (1925-1979) to the conservative government of the Islamic Republic. While the former regime engaged in practices to form a modern secular nation-state, the latter sought to institutionalize religion. This shift deeply affected the social life of the Iranian people, particularly young men and women. Modern conceptions of leisure, recreation, entertainment and freedom in public urban spaces were also challenged.
This study investigates the ways in which the rise of leisure spaces in Tehran has resulted in the production of zones of exception and encounter. A conditional and temporal understanding of public joy and freedom is produced and reproduced within everyday ‘norms and forms’ in the context of the Islamic Republic. In addition, the notion of agency has led to the production of a new identity and lifestyle that stands in stark contrast with the current ruling authority.
The research examines three case studies, including the spaces of women-exclusive parks constructed by the Tehran Municipality, public streets employed for the exhibition of luxury cars and specific social performances by the young and rich, and suburban garden-villas as spaces for clandestine parties. The study explores emerging lifestyles of a young generation of Tehrani residents born after the Revolution, who advanced to maturity under conservative regulations and codes of public behavior. It looks at how these conditions have affected their lives and social relations in a variety of dimensions, and how these young men and women have formulated a particular everyday urban lifestyle of resistance. Youth have created ways of manipulating controlled urban environments to redefine ‘public freedom’. Through the manufacture of fun in the city, they compensate for a lack of public and private leisure space.
The research is conducted by ethnographic fieldwork, and includes on-site observations, semi-structured interviews, and informal conversations. The dissertation provides an analysis of the ongoing interactions among young Iranians at the selected sites, and how their everyday practices in the built environment have served as methods of resistance to political and social restrictions, particularly those that limit their use and enjoyment of public space. Challenges to everyday dynamics of ‘resistance’ and ‘agency’ are shaping a new ‘culture of imposture’, a tradition that deviates from the moral values of post-revolutionary Islamic society.
The research also revealed a number of compelling observations about the everyday use of public and private urban spaces in the Middle Eastern context, and allude to spatial strategies of defiance against rules of public behavior under totalitarian governments. As the general trajectory of research in the areas of gender, class, and sexuality rapidly develops in the United States, this research brings a Middle Eastern perspective to a widening, international discourse.