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A Social Revolution

Politics and the Welfare State in Iran

Kevan Harris (Author)


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For decades, political observers and pundits have characterized the Islamic Republic of Iran as an ideologically rigid state on the verge of collapse, exclusively connected to a narrow social base. In A Social Revolution, Kevan Harris convincingly demonstrates how they are wrong. Previous studies ignore the forceful consequences of three decades of social change following the 1979 revolution. Today, more people in the country are connected to welfare and social policy institutions than to any other form of state organization. In fact, much of Iran’s current political turbulence is the result of the success of these social welfare programs, which have created newly educated and mobilized social classes advocating for change. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted in Iran, Harris shows how the revolutionary regime endured through the expansion of health, education, and aid programs that have both embedded the state in everyday life and empowered its challengers. This focus on the social policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran opens a new line of inquiry into the study of welfare states in countries where they are often overlooked or ignored.
Note on Transliteration

1. Can an Oil State Be a Welfare State?
2. Seeing like a King: Welfare Policy as State-Building Strategy in the Pahlavi Monarchy
3. Creating a Martyrs’ Welfare State: 1979, War, and the Survival of the Islamic Republic
4. The Revolution Embedded: Rural Transformations and the Demographic Miracle
5. Development and Distinction: Welfare-State Expansion and the Politics of the New Middle Class
6. Lineages of the Iranian Welfare State
Conclusion: Development Contradictions through the Lens of Welfare Politics

Kevan Harris is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Harris literally wrote the book on politics and welfare in Iran.” —Foreign Policy
“This empirically rich study draws on Harris’ extensive fieldwork in Iran and uses welfare policy as a prism through which to view the country’s transition from the shah’s dictatorship to the now nearly 40-year-old theocracy of the Islamic Republic. . . . If Harris is correct, the Islamic Republic contains the seeds of its own transformation.”—John Waterbury Foreign Affairs
"A Social Revolution acts as a much-needed corrective to a lot of the academic and policy literature on contemporary Iran, which tends to view the country’s political and social geography in binary terms: namely, a top-heavy, ideological, and oppressive state versus a resistant, cosmopolitan society."—The Middle East Journal
"This impressive book pushes Iranian studies from the cloisters of area studies to the wider precincts of global political economy."—Charles Kurzman, author of The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran
"An original account of how the revolutionary regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran was able to survive years of turmoil. Harris has had the privilege of gathering the materials from inside Iran, access few American scholars have had since the 1979 revolution."—Ervand Abrahamian, author of The Coup: 1953, the C.I.A., and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations
"A Social Revolution offers an invaluable counterpoint to the prevailing conventional wisdom and should be required reading. Harris goes beyond the standard theocratic political frame to document a surprisingly successful Iranian variation on the developmental state."—Peter B. Evans, author of Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation

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