Secularization of Iran: A Doomed Failure? the New Middle Class and the Making of Modern Iran

Article excerpt

Secularization of Iran: A Doomed Failure? The New Middle Class and the Making of Modern Iran, by Azadeh KianThiebaut. Paris: Institut d'etudes iraniennes, 1998. 258 pages. Resume en francais to p. 269. Bibl. to 285. Index to 296. n.p.

In Secularization of Iran: A Doomed Failure?, Azadeh Kian-Thiebaut aims "...not to write the history of twentieth century Iran. As a sociologist, [she] only highlight[s] significant historical moments to show the contribution of the new middle class in the making of modern Iran" (p. 7). Elucidating the aspirations and capacities of the oft-neglected middle class, the author offers a relatively new and praiseworthy approach to the study of Iranian politics. Yet, this book is not without shortcomings. Most significantly, KianThiebaut does not present a compelling or holistic account of the middle class's saga and, thus, has difficulty substantiating her claims about the failures, successes, and prospects for secularization in Iran.

Recognizing the nebulous and non-cohesive character of the middle class, Kian-Thiebaut, in the introductory chapter, dissects this group horizontally and vertically, differentiating between the new and traditional, the urban and rural, as well as the upper and lower middle class constituencies. She defines the members of the new middle class as those who are "graduates of secular institutions of higher education, do not own means of production, and are composed of two groups: the salaried of the public and private sectors, and the liberal professionals" (p. 7). Kian-Thiebaut traces the formation of the first generation of the new middle class (i.e., bureaucrats, doctors, engineers, journalists, lawyers, teachers, university students, etc.) from "...the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1930s" (p. 18). The rise of this class was one outcome of state-led modernization efforts (p. 20) and the expansion of educational opportunities (p. 73). The author goes as far as to say that "the new middle class has been a political creation" (p. 255).

Kian-Thiebaut contends that a democratic system of government would rest on the shoulders of the new middle class, which has adopted a modernist sub-culture and a largely secularist, liberalnationalist discourse. Assessing the social, political, and economic potential of the new middle class, the author concludes that "the failure of secularism was the outcome of temporary circumstances" (p. 10) and that secularist forces still have a promising future in Iran. …