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Curriculum reform and identity politics in Iranian school textbooks : national and global representations of "race", ethnicity, social class and gender Mirfakhraie, Amir Hossein


This study interrogates whose knowledge about the self and the other is represented to Iranian students in the 2004 and in selected pre-2004 editions of elementary and guidance school textbooks by analyzing how issues of identity politics, diversity, “citizenship” and development inform the construction of Iranian national identity since the introduction of various curriculum reforms (i.e.: global education) after the Revolution of 1978-79. I draw upon antiracism and transnationalism as discourses of analysis through which the West-East dichotomy is (re)evaluated and interrogated within the context of Edward Said’s notion of Orientalism and Boroujerdi’s (1996) conceptualization of “Orientalism in reverse”. I utilize deconstruction, discourse and qualitative interpretative content analyses as methods of investigating how “race”, ethnicity, social class and gender are configured in representations of sameness and difference. I “look at style, figures of speech, settings, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original” (Said, 1978, p. 28). I argue that the ideal citizen and Iranian national identity are constructed by references to conflicting discourses of mustāżafīn (the oppressed), jīhād-i sūzandagī (the Reconstruction Jīhād), ‘ashayir (nomadic tribes), Ummat-i Islamī (Islamic Nation/Community), Īrān-dūstī (loving Iran), the Aryan migration, velayat-e-faqih and colonialism. In their discursive formations, nationalist, anti-imperialist, Islamic, middle-class and Orientalist narratives construct a homogenized Iranian citizenry who has always been active in regional/global relations of power. The ideal citizen is represented through the invocation of two types/sets of “shifting collectivities” that identify it as “white”, male, Shi’a, Aryan-Pars, progressive, independent, pious and a leader in the Islamic world. The first set divides between Shi’a-Persians and non-Shi’a and non-Persians. The second set of binary oppositions represents the ideal citizen in relation and in opposition to the West and the East in their multiple and historical forms. These textbooks are assimilationist texts that act as “border patrolling” and “stignatizing” discourses. They are also forms of “textual genocide” that exclude the voices and histories of national and global minorities and acts of discrimination committed by Iranians against women and minority religious and ethnic groups as official knowledge about friendly/enemy insiders and outsiders.

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