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The production of Iran as a national state spacetime: Late development and formal subsumption

The production of Iran as a national state spacetime: Late development and formal subsumption

Aidin Torkameh

Spacetime as a social product is almost absent in Iranian social thought and politics. Environment/geography is still considered to be a mere static background. This contrasts with a dialectical conception of spacetime as simultaneously a formative product and contingent condition (and indirect producer) of social action. Conventional approaches actively function to depoliticize spacetime by promoting linear, static and flat conceptions of history and geography. The ideology of Iranshahr (ایرانشهر) is a salient example in this regard. Ideological concepts of ‘national territorial integrity’ and ‘disintegration’ are mobilized by the Islamic Republic regime (especially since the Syrian ‘civil’ war) and its organic intellectuals to vindicate its interventionist foreign policies and the associated securitization discourse (national security).

Over the past four decades, a vast body of historiographical work on Iran (Marxist and otherwise, with different points of focus) has appeared without a serious exploration of the constitutive spatio-temporalities of their subject matters (social forces, processes and relations). A theoretical framework sensitive to the historical and geographical specificity of these spatio-temporalities is missing and the totality of ‘the production of space’ has not been the focus.

As a result, the inherent spatio-temporalities of Iranian state formation and its essential territorial aspect have been mostly taken for granted in the existing literature. The production of the Iranian state as a territorial entity has been mostly naturalized and de-historicized in this way. As a result, the production of Iran as a national state space has been reified and eternalized. This naturalization of the state space, Aidin supposes, has been made possible through a particular conception of time/temporality and history (and consequently, an implicit conception of space/geography as a flat neutral container) which is mostly manifested in Iranian nationalist historiographies.

Map of Iran

Aidin argues the production of Iran has been founded on the simultaneous creation of a territorial space and a linear history. This production of a territorial history has been associated with the state-centric production of an abstract space appeared in nationalist discourses and the associated state-led material mechanisms (including infrastructural projects). His research explores the social production of Iran in its simultaneous physical/material and discursive/representational moments. Aidin asks how has Iran been produced as a national state spacetime? He excavates some of the major material spatio-temporalities of Iranian state formation since the late Qajar period (late 19th century) that have been largely overlooked in the existing literature on modern Iran.

These intertwined spatio-temporalities will be explored in the broader geopolitical context of internationalized capitalist economy at its imperialist stage. Aidin characterizes the production of Iran as a national state spacetime as a form of capitalist ‘late development’ through the process of ‘formal subsumption’. By employing a dialectical conception of spacetime; a relational class-based understanding of state; and a historical-geographical approach, his research attempts to shed some light on the dominant dualistic and essentialist mode of thinking in the existing Iranian historiographies which is characterized by two internally related moments: temporal linearity/continuity and spatial fixity. In the context of Lefebvre’s idea of the production of space as a three-dimensional (simultaneously material, representational, and social) dialectical process, Aidin will employ a Gramscian historicism that is essentially spatial.

Aidin Torkameh is a PhD candidate in Environmental Studies at York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. His dissertation is under the supervision of Professor Stefan Kipfer. Aidin received his BA (Honors) in Urban Planning (Tehran, 2009) and holds a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning and Design (Tehran, 2011). Over the past ten years, he has translated Henri Lefebvre’s Dialectical Materialism, Rhythmanalysis, and The Survival of Capitalism; and some other works into Persian/Farsi. Employing Lefebvre’s ‘the production of space’ and Gramsci’s ‘spatial historicism’, Aidin’s dissertation examines the transformation of Iranian state (since the 19th century) through a spatial lens. He is also the founder (2016) of Space & Dialectics; the first (online) journal on critical urban theory and human geography in Persian.