Social-Psychological Theories of Political Development

Back to the Future: SocialPsychological Theories of
Political Development and the
1979 Iranian Revolution
Understanding Iran’s revolution:
Does the selected theory fit the facts,
or do selected facts fit the theory?
Key Elements of Social-Psychology
Political Development Theories
• Focuses principally on the individual.
• Revolutionary tensions produced through
(1) disoriented individuals; (2) social
isolation; (3) frustrated expectations; and
(4) mismatched modernization and
• Tensions relieved through “Ideology as
Episodic Discourse.” (see Moaddel p. 15)
• Seeks to compliment structural
understandings of development or
revolution by including subjective elements
of cultural values and psychological predispositions.
• However, by juxtaposing “modern” and
“traditional,” with modern implicitly both
good and Western, risks ethnocentric
Why Back to the Future?
• Iranian ‘Constitutional Revolution’ of 1906
replaced old order of Shi’ite Islam as
interpreted by religious ‘ulama and law of
Islam (shari’a) with law of parliament and
Westernized ideology and institutions.
• Mujtahids lost a degree of political
influence. Many accommodated new
arrangement, but many considered state
illegitimate (chain of authority in Shi’ite
jurisprudence leads from divine word to
Prophet and Imams, and thence to ‘ulama,
with no room for temporal leader.)
Cultural Aspects of Iranian
• Small “modern” sector, large and growing
structural inequalities.
• Large “traditional” sector, irrespective of
socioeconomic status, adhered to traditional
Islamic values, best represented by ‘ulama.
• State control of media made mosques
central to revolutionary communication,
reinforcing religious connection.
Towards Revolution...
• Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini exiled for
political agitation against Shah’s
Westernizing influence.
• Eventually continued political agitation
from Paris.
• “Traditional” Islamic values resonated with
majority of population, especially
“Bazaaris” (merchants) who represented
‘eye of the storm.’
Iran’s Oil Crisis
• Post 1973: massive increase in oil wealth
concentrated in small, elite, “modern”
• However, influx of petro-dollars fuelled
enormous inflation, especially for food,
• All workers (white-collar, oil, agriculture,
construction etc) and students affected.
• Bazaaris delt double blow by Shah’s “antiprofiteering” campaign.
Revolution or Coalition?
• Ali Banuazzi identifies four Islamic
“ideologies” (p. 304) at play:
• “Radical Islam” - young intelligentsia.
• “Militant Islam” - ‘ulama and dispossessed
• “Liberal Islam” - middle class and bazaaris
• “Traditional Islam” - most‘ulama, white collar
Social Breakdown Model
• Shah’s modernization broke down
indigenous social institutions.
• Created new elite with different culture;
created deep social divisions.
• Modernization generated acquisitive
consumption culture that remained
Social Movement Model
• Assigns primary responsibility to religious
values and legitimate authority of clergy.
• Model of purposeful action based on ideas
and culture leading to political action.
• Model tends to emphasize specific Shi’ite
beliefs and inherent ‘confrontational’ nature
of beliefs vis-à-vis secular authority.
Other Contending Theories
• Marxist explanation seeks to frame
revolution as economic - classic
exploitation of the masses.
• Structural model argues that state
intervention in capital accumulation
politicized economic market, makes state
viable target for societal unrest.
And the Winner is...
• Social-psychological models provide
necessary cultural connection to understand
revolution, especially the formation of an
effective coalition between such disparate
• Structural or marxist models cannot
adequately explain ascendancy of clergy
and eventual formation of theocracy.
Social-psychological explanation
• ‘Traditional’ sector large and mobilized.
• ‘liberal’ Islam of bazaaris combined with
militant, radical, and traditional elements.
• Rise of dual sovereignty (through
Khomeni’s appointment of Bazargan as PM,
Shah’s departure, and official declaration of
military neutrality) meant people were pro
or con revolution - no middle ground.
• Founding of Revolutionary Guard ensured
regime’s survival (as oppressive as Savak?)
The Referendum
• Held March 30 - 31 1979.
• Voters chose between founding an Islamic
republic or a return to Monarchy.
• Liberals (including PM) complained choice
was undemocratic since monarchy already
was overthrown.
• 20,406,591 of 22,800,000 eligible voted to
found Islamic Republic.
Iran today - measures of
‘modernity’ (1997 data)
• CO2 emissions/capita (metric tons, 1996)
– Canada = 7.0 - 14.9; Iran = 3.0 - 6.9
• Telecommunications (mobile phones/1000)
– Canada = 100+; Iran = 5 - 100
• Telephone lines/1000 people
– Canada = 500+; Iran = 101 - 500
• Transportation (cars/1000, 1996)
– Canada = 300+; Iran = less than 100
• Fertility Rates (child/woman)
– Canada = less than 2; Iran = 2 - 5
Iran - GDP in Constant 1990
Dollars (Billions of Rials)
- source: IMF Financial Statistics Yearbook, 1998
1965 1970 1975 1977 1979 1980 1985 1990 1995
• Martin, Vanessa. Islam and Modernism. New
York: Syracuse University Press, 1989.
• Moaddel, Mansoor. Class, Politics, and Ideology
in the Iranian Revolution. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1993.
• Parsa, Misagh. Social Origins of the Iranian
Revolution. New Brunswick: Rutgers University
Press, 1989.
• Weiner, Myron and Samuel P. Huntington.
Understanding Political Development. Prospect
Heights: Waveland Press, Inc., 1987.

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