The Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran By Arzoo Osanloo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 258 pages.)

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Abbas Barzegar

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Abstract

Firmly situated in the field of legal anthropology, Arzoo Osanloo’s The
Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran is an ethnographic treatment of women’s
rights discourse in contemporary Iran. It is concerned with unraveling the
assumed paradoxes involved in administering a republican theocracy that
attempts to incorporate both divinely inspired legal injunctions and representative
forms of governance.
Whereas many conversations concerning human rights and Islam are
drowned in contention, normativity, and exegetical speculation, Osanloo’s
contribution steadily manages to remain above the fray. This is done by placing
the discourse of women’s rights within the cultural context of globalization
and post-colonialism and yet still identifying its local, embodied
practice within the shifting political dynamics of post-revolutionary Iran. To
this end, through exploring the lives of upper-middle class women in Tehran
and their encounters with the emerging Islamo-republican state, the author
explores the “conditions [that] have allowed for the discussion of rights to
materialize in a language that was unacceptable just after the revolution…”
(p. 7), while paying close attention to the ways in which contemporary Iran
represents a vernacular modernity expressed through “a hybrid discourse
that locates a distinctive form of modernity at the juncture of Islamic revivalism
and Western political and legal institutions” (p. 8).
Her theoretical and methodological approach, which incorporates elements
of post-colonialism and post-modernism, is presented in a short
introudction. Guiding concepts such as “rights as discursive practice,” “dialogical
sites,” and “subjectivization” thus readily inform her mobilization
and treatment of the data. Thankfully, her concern for methodological precision
does not obscure or consume the narrative form through which she puts
forth her thesis in the remainder of the text ...

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