From the Light of the Eyes to the Eyes of the Power: State and Dissident Martyrs in Post-Revolutionary Iran

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16 Scopus citations


In 2006 the courtyard of Sanati Sharif University in Tehran became a battleground over the geographies of life and death. The conflict transpired between students who protested the burying of state martyrs on campus, while the state and its supporters carried out the act regardless of the protest. In analyzing this act this essay traces the genealogy of the transforming geographies of life and death in modern Iran. It strives to demonstrate how the imposition of the dead in the eyes of the living and the struggles against it are informed by modern discourses and rationalities and are in keeping with, while transforming, the presumed boundaries between life and death and their sociality. The author sees the incursion of state martyrs into the public eye as a means to marginalize and render invisible the deviant "other," the dissident martyrs. It demonstrates how the conflation of the vicinities of the dead and the living by burying corpses in public arenas reveals the stark contrast between the hyper-visibility of the state martyrs and the discriminatory invisibility and lack of recognition of dissident martyrs. In its corporeality this invasion echoes the previously symbolic, metaphoric and discursive dimensions of the visual presence of state martyrs as the eye of the power. It illuminates how state martyrs are employed to play the role of eternal soldiers for the state, be utilized as its eyes to oversee obedience to its laws and the safeguarding of taboos. The event that followed the post-presidential election of 2009, however, showed the contested role and position martyrs play in post-revolutionary Iran.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-147
Number of pages28
JournalVisual Anthropology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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