Life under Reza Shah: new bourgeois culture and other forms of practiced modernity

The third part concentrates on the practical implementation of the Pahlavi reform agenda and its effects on daily life. In addition to the state and personally committed intellectuals and technocrats, other groups and forces participated in the task of national modernization and education. Confronted with the actual appropriation of new cultural modes, both the Iranian intelligentsia and nonelite modernists were forced to re-evaluate their concepts of modernity and adjust them to the actual situation. Consequently, discussions about desired and undesired culture and the necessity to regulate and administrate cultural productions were of utmost importance. Their interaction with the populace to be educated took also place outside the framework of state institutions. With the emergence of a new bourgeois culture, the middle class created its own new space for entertainment, music, and communication. Taking the subjective dimension of their cultural experiences into account, the contributions of this part explore the self-conception of the modernist middle class and its lifestyle in the period from the 1920s to the beginning of the 1940s. Nevertheless, we constantly have to keep in mind that protagonists from these strata of society remained heavily dependent on the support of state institutions if they wanted to put their ideas and concepts successfully into practice. Here, the interaction between cultural politics and cultural expression becomes most apparent.

In Chapter 9 Christoph Werner challenges the prevalent negative evaluations of theatre in the early Pahlavi period, which are ascribed to the general intellectual climate of the time, the rigorous censorship under Reza Shah, and the premise that the idea of modern theatre in the European tradition remained widely alien to Iranian culture and public interest. He shows that theatre had its place in the middle of society where it was appreciated largely because of its entertaining qualities and thus served the needs of a general public.

In Chapter 10 Roja Dehdarian portrays the group of young literati around Sadeq Hedayat and Bozorg ‘Alavi and traces their position in cultural life during the second decade of Reza Shah’s reign. We notice their struggle with the literary establishment, their antipathy towards the government, and their rejection of traditional religious authority. However, it is also undeniable that they participated in the cultural discourse of the time; and their nationalist ideas shared common ground with the official state nationalism. This dichotomy highlights the necessity of recognizing the heterogeneity of the discourse that encompassed different and at times competing ideas of modernity and nation.

In the course of Iran’s “rebirth” as a modern nation the profession of midwifery gained a special and also a symbolic relevance. Elham Malekzadeh examines in Chapter 11 the integration of midwifery as a new profession into Reza Shah’s health care system. Special attention is paid to the education of future midwives, the process of establishing obstetric schools in Iran, their curricular and examinations. By focusing on the women who were trained in and graduated from the newly established obstetric schools, this paper opens a completely new field of research for the early Pahlavi period, based on the analysis of mainly unpublished material from Iranian archives.

The visible change of Iran through the rapid spread of modern technology was a vital aspect of Reza Shah’s reform agenda. Driven by the wish to extend its control over all parts of society, the Pahlavi state was concerned about how to regulate the adoption of modern technology. But modernists also felt responsible to help the common Iranian people adapt to modern life. In Chapter 12 Bianca Devos discusses the educational efforts of both the Pahlavi state and members of the modernist middle class to instruct Iranians on how to use the new technologies in the “right” way. At the same time this chapter sheds light on the actual adoption of technical devices by the mass of Iranians.

The final chapter takes a look at the historical development of communication practices in Iran from the end of the nineteenth century until the early Pahlavi period. In the light of fundamental changes in Iranian society caused by modernization politics Katja Follmer describes changing modes of communication used by traditional religious authorities, the Pahlavi state, and members of the opposition. She also examines how communication in the 1930s was structured, and what parameters were essential for it.

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