Passing the Torch: Iran’s 2013 Surprise, the Digital Generational Gap, and the Depoliticization of Public Intellectuals

Abstract

Scholars of the sociology of intellectuals have proposed that the decline of public intellectuals is due to two factors: the result of the professionalization of academic disciplines and political shocks in transitional societies through social movements and revolutions. Eyal and Buchholz (Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 117–137, 2010) instead argue that a new mode of intellectual intervention takes place in an “interstitial domain”; that is, a blurry space between the political field and academia. Absent in the literature of the sociology of intellectuals and interventions is the impact of varying perceptions of regime dynamics on shifting modes of political intervention that can pave the way for the depoliticization of public intellectuals. Drawing from Eyal and Buchholz, this study examines the depoliticization of public intellectuals and particularly religious public intellectuals, during Iran’s 2013 presidential race. The political authority of public intellectuals was challenged by an emergent generation of tech-savvy activists with “high journalistic profiles.” I argue that a new generation of activists intervened in the election across the overlapping space of journalism, digital activism, and political activism. As the new generation of activists “movementized” the election on Facebook—developing a different perception of the political regime and the election—against conservative candidates (“regime insiders”), they portrayed the moderate candidate as the “regime outsider.” Prominent public intellectuals framed all presidential candidates as regime insiders, however. By analyzing the “hope and despair narratives” of the 2013 election, this study relates the depoliticization of public intellectuals to digital activism of the new generation of activists to make sense of the “digital generational gap.”

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Notes

  1. 1.

    There are a few comparative works in this area: i.e., Collins 1998; Eyal and Buchholz 2010; Kurzman and Leahey 2004.

  2. 2.

    I owe this phrase to Jen Schradie (2018).

  3. 3.

    Hashemi was one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic of Iran (I.R.I) after the 1979 revolution.

  4. 4.

    A more exhaustive sample of representations of religious public intellectuals in the conservative outlets, as well as their papers and comments, which were published in Kian and Zanan, will be provided by the author upon the request.

  5. 5.

    Scholarship on the Green Movement has been enriched since the rise of the movement: e.g., Harris (2012); Hashemi and Postel (2010).

  6. 6.

    Ali Rabii, one of the leading reformists turned to the minister of labor in the Rohani’s first government, reported this surge of support and excitement as follows: “Had not been disqualified, Hashemi would have won the election by sweeping victory of forty million votes” (Aseman Weekly, July 27, 2013).

  7. 7.

    According to the Guardian Council’s official report, Hashemi’s age (78) persuaded the Council to disqualify him from the presidential race (sharghdaily.ir, July 27, 2013).

  8. 8.

    Mohsen Renani, one of the most sociologically oriented economists, clearly explains disillusionment of public intellectuals in 2013: “...It is rather ironic and unique in the modern Iranian history; right now, ordinary people are concerned and active, but reformists and intellectuals are frustrated. We should be realistic like ordinary people… we should try to choose a non-militarist president, even if he is not among reformists.” (sharghdaily.ir, June 1, 2013)

  9. 9.

    Rather than using “conservative” (mohafezekar), Iranian conservatives self-identify as principlist (osulgra). See Mohebian (2000).

  10. 10.

    Due to the privacy issue, all nonpublic references from the Facebook pages have been quoted after getting the permission of Facebook activists.

  11. 11.

    It should be mentioned that the late Ali Shariati and the late Mehdi Bazargan are known to be the first generation of Iranian religious public intellectuals.

  12. 12.

    Additionally, other young activists/journalists such as the previously mentioned Hooman Doorandish (May 25, 28, and 30, 2013), Matin Ghaffarian (March 12, May 28, 2013), Sajjad Salek (June 13, 2013), Pouyan Fakhraie (June 11, 2013), and Mojtaba Najafi (June 11, June 12, 2013), and so forth produced Facebook texts encouraging people to vote for reformist candidates before and after the disqualification of Hashemi.

  13. 13.

    Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

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Correspondence to Amirhossein Teimouri.

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Teimouri, A. Passing the Torch: Iran’s 2013 Surprise, the Digital Generational Gap, and the Depoliticization of Public Intellectuals. Int J Polit Cult Soc (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-020-09367-3

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Keywords

  • The depoliticization of public intellectuals
  • Perceptions of regime dynamics
  • The digital generational gap
  • Iran’s presidential election
  • Facebook