Territorial Politics In A Transitional Society: Towards A New Political Sociology Of Iran

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


John Agnew


Minority & ethnic groups, Sociology

Subject Categories

Politics and Social Change


The 1979 collapse of Iran's monarchy indicated that the Iranian polity was suffering from deep-seated problems. These problems were among the factors which combined to tear apart the traditional socio-political structure and old politics.

By pointing out such factors and their dynamism and highlighting the interrelations between a society and its politics, the present work reviews Iranian history to explain its social fabric. The study contains an examination of the Pahlavi regime's attempts at "progress" and "development." The analysis is confined to four major indicators--industry, agriculture, health care and education--and covers the period 1963 to 1975, the "Royal Dictatorship."

The analysis reveals that the territorial distribution of the accomplishments logged during this period brought about partial industrialization and uneven development. Existing inequalities were thus exacerbated and ethnic discrimination was enhanced. The major ethnic groups in Iran have long lived with inequalities which have, over time, nourished resentment over the pattern of uneven development. A center-periphery conflict was thus sharpened and ethnic nationality was revived during the "Royal Dictatorship" era.

Not surprisingly, this calls into question the "national integration" of Iran, though political integration could be viewed as a pivotal theme in Iran's political sociology. The fact that the country's major ethnic groups are concentrated in Iran's geographical peripheries also means that the country has ethnic territories conducive to political disintegration. In nearly all cases, the ethnic territories extend beyond Iran's conventional political borders, and the people living in Iran's periphery often find more cultural affinity with people in neighboring countries than the dominant Iranian ethnic group.

"Iranian nationalism" is therefore a slogan empty of meaning. By contrast, the concept of nationality which has cultural substance, makes more sense and seems capable of generating integrative and assimilative forces. This study indicates the urgency of the need for restructuring Iran's traditional political system in a way that takes into account the ethnic mosaic and associated uneven development. Ignoring the existence and function of the factors explored here will preclude the removal of obstacles to the stability of the Iranian government and the well-being of the Iranian people.


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