UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Islamic technoscience : machines, politics, and gender in Iran’s cultural revolution (1980-1983) Heshmati, Ataollah


This thesis explores the relationship between science, technology, Islam, and politics in postrevolutionary Iran. The central question of this thesis is how a group of Islamist revolutionaries utilized science and technology to consolidate power in the Islamic Republic state and neutralize other competing factions involved in the 1979 revolution. I mainly focus on the events of Iran’s Cultural Revolution in the spring of 1980, which shut down all universities for three years and gave birth to two new revolutionary institutions: a policymaking council, called the Headquarters of the Cultural Revolution (HCR) and a nation-wide network of Islamist students who overthrew university administrations, called the University Jehad (UJ). Along with other pre-existing bureaucratic organizations, these revolutionary bodies governed science and technology in postrevolutionary Iran. I argue that the institutional and ideological tensions between these new institutions and with older bureaucratic organizations exemplify the crisis of the Islamic Republic state in the early 1980s. To understand the relevance of science and technology in the state-building processes in postrevolutionary Iran, this thesis is the first to examine the history of a new form of technoscientific enterprise pursued by the HCR, called “Islamic technoscience”. Islamic technoscience is the embodiment of the revolutionary doctrines of independence, self-sufficiency, and anti-colonial science materialized in a set of small and simply-designed machines meant to protect the state’s food security, economic resilience, and employment market. These machines, along with other achievements of the Islamized universities, were celebrated and displayed at the HCR’s science fairs, on the anniversaries of the Cultural Revolution. Showcasing these material artifacts, these exhibitions featured the binary between colonial science and Islamic technoscience demonstrating the importance of politics in the design of technology. In addition, I study the social relevance of Islamic technoscience examining the relationship between gender roles and the technoscientific ambitions of the state. Through a deep reading of certain documents revealing the internal ruling relationships within the HCR and UJ, I examine the major restrictions on women’s enrolment in technical, engineering, and agricultural subjects as well as the acts of resistance against these policies by Iranian female scientists.

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