AAA Annual Meeting 2021
November 18, 2021
Baltimore, United States
Strategies to Cope with Fieldwork Barriers and Sensitive, Politically-Fraught Topics in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Romance, Marriage, Co-habitation, Sexuality
Given the highly problematic dynamics between the Islamic Republic of Iran and western countries (especially the US), fieldwork in the Islamic Republic of Iran is barrier-ridden. IRI officials and culture disapprove of anthropology. Some anthropologists and other scholars with Iranian background have been imprisoned in Iran under false charges. Many topics chosen by our panelists are politically and culturally sensitive, and potential interlocutors are reluctant to discuss them with researchers. Outsiders, those without an Iranian passport, especially those from the West and all the more so, from the US, face severe difficulties in obtaining an Iranian visa. Under these conditions, how do intrepid, stubborn anthropologists who still want to conduct research about romance, marriage, co-habitation and sexuality in Iran manage? Organizers Drs. Afary and Hegland aim to provide a palate of research strategies developed by scholars working on Iran for researchers, students, and applied anthropologists interested in Iran and helpful for those working in other areas and about other topics. In addition to the presenters, at least three other anthropologists lacking Iranian background have managed to conduct field work in the IRI; Agnes Loeffler (Allopathy Goes Native Traditional Versus Modern Medicine in Iran, 2007), Zuzanna Olszewska (The Pearl of Dari: Poetry and Personhood among Young Afghans in Iran, 2015) and Rose Wellman (Feeding Iran: Shi`i Families and the Making of the Islamic Republic, 2021) Outstanding books have been published by scholars with Iranian background. For students hoping to conduct research about Iran, quite a number of scholars are available to provide suggestions. Our participants implemented a variety of strategies to study sensitive topics in the politically-fraught environment of the IRI, such as Janet's large facebook project to investigate attitude and practices among Iranians and people in other Middle East/ North Africa countries. Living in Iran, Masserat could use the snowball method to conduct in-depth interviews and focus groups to analyze how different generations of women overcame challenges and gain independent lives. Behrooz's Bakhtiari background helped him analyze changing marriage practices among that ethnic/tribal group, such as marriages between higher and lower status tribal groups. GholamReza and Maryam utilized surveys and found ways to interview profession and carpet weaving women about the illegal practice of co-habitation ("white marriage"). Vahideh studied social media to investigate how people negotiate intimacy in the electronic age. Amir studied textbooks to analyze what the regime promotes as ideal family relations and attitudes about diversity. Hegland focused on telephone, zoom, and whatsapp communication with long-time Aliabad friends to study results of past early/child marriages. Erika Friedl collected folk stories, proverbs, folk, philosophy, and religion and explained their meanings to locals through ethnographic context. She developed "ethnographic stories" to reveal how women wielded their culture to attain some aims, in spite of severe limitations. Through a variety of tactics, Erika studied the leaning processes of children to understand and wield their cultures. For researchers without Iranian background, long-term research, so people know and trust one, or utilizing contacts to gain entrance to a community is advisable.