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Violence, State formation and memory politics: an off-site ethnography of post-revolution Iran

Project description

When social scientists can’t access the field

Fieldwork is an important part of social science research, but it’s not always easy or possible. For instance, social scientists are usually required to negotiate access to a conflict or post-conflict zone. As such, access is heavily restricted to areas guarded by strong regimes. With this in mind, the EU-funded OFF-SITE project will explore new ways to study ‘locked’ societies by aligning current methods and episteme to the global circulation of norms, data and people. Specifically, researchers will test new technologies and transdisciplinary methods in the production of empirical study off-site using as an example the case of Iran’s Khomeini years (1979-1988). It will review available sources in a digital ‘counter-archive’ to establish a genealogy of post-revolutionary violence and state formation in Iran.


How can violence be studied when access to the field is impossible? Fieldwork is a trademark of ethnography, which is fast becoming a key practice in qualitative research across disciplines. In conflict and post-conflict zones, social scientists tend to negotiate access to fieldwork through an international community of experts and practitioners. But empirical investigation proves more difficult in strong regimes that are closed or restricted, and exert (tight) surveillance over academics and the civil society. The power-knowledge apparatus draws some boundaries for researchers to respect in order to keep access to the field: thus, subjects that fall outside the domain of ‘researchability’ disqualify for ethnographic study. Consequently, research is (re)oriented by opportunities of access to the field. The study of violence (its mechanisms, effects, genealogy and everyday experiences) in repressive States thus remains a blind spot, with protracted effects on the understanding of societies that are built on this history of violence.
Based on the case of Iran, this pioneering research seeks to change our ways of studying ‘locked’ societies, by adapting our methods and episteme to the global circulation of norms, data and people. Through the anthropology of the State and violence, archive ethnography and the use of new technologies, it experiments trans-disciplinary methods in the production of empirical study off-site, in order to fill a substantive gap in scientific knowledge on the Khomeini years in Iran (1979-1988), and how their legacy reappears in todays’ politics of memory. By classifying and reviewing available sources in a digital “counter-archive”, the project will establish a genealogy of post-revolutionary violence and state formation in Iran, and make this documentation available for further research. It will also document and analyze the memory politics linked to this foundational past and how they redefine the boundaries of political participation.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 223 843,75
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 223 843,75

Beneficiaries (1)