Current Institutional Affiliation
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Berkeley
Giving Words: an Ethnography of Translation and History in Modern Iran

This project is an ethnographic, historical, and textual study of practices of reading, translation, and history-writing in post-revolutionary Iran, where "translation" has emerged as one of the central forms of intellectual production. Following a cue from a number of prominent scholars working and thinking in Iran today, translation is understood as a cultural practice that reaches beyond linguistic transposition and instead concerns the capacity of a society to reconnect to its traumatic history and multiple cultural traditions. I recognize this phenomenon as a "translation movement" that echoes earlier historical conjunctures in which translation has been central to the development of cultural and political life in Iran and the Near East. Following a central formulation in contemporary Iranian debates, my hypothesis is that contemporary practices of translation are at once the realization of a "crisis", a historical, political and cultural disablement, and an attempt at "cultural regeneration", one that seeks to reconnect the reader and speaker to living memories and renewed potentialities. This project will unfold on two related and yet distinct moments and field sites to examine this hypothesis. The first is an ethnographic engagement with the intellectuals involved in reading, translating and teaching texts that they understand to belong to the Western experience of modernity, with a particular emphasis on the conditions of possibility of thinking history and historiography in Iran today. The second is an ethnography of what I call "minor histories" of Iranian modernity, which I intend to base in Iranian Kurdistan. Drawing on anthropology's understanding of productivity of cultural translation, as well as Islamic articulation of production of knowledge as an "act of being," this project examines how in the context of traumatic history of Iran the translation movement produces cultural regeneration in staging a non-secular form of critique.