Nahid Siamdoust/ University of Oxford: Tehran’s Soundscape and the Public Sphere

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Private, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

Tehran’s soundscape is a highly contested element of the public sphere that the Islamic Republic officially controls. I will show through a discussion of music how this space serves to mitigate any stark demarcations of the public or the private as people use various tactics to insert their presence into the official sphere via the city’s soundscapes. In this way, producers and consumers of music challenge officially imposed norms and values. The fragmentation of state authority through critiques of imposed gender roles, official corruption and religious hypocrisyhappens in the semi-public sphere that each individual within the larger public sphere possesses; these range from a business-owner’s shop to a taxi driver’s car to the personal space that each individual can affect, through such things as speech, clothing, behaviour or humming a tune. I examine discourses in several musical subcultures and how the text as well as the performativity that it enables produces what Asef Bayat has called ‘quiet encroachment’ in the public sphere. By declaring the ‘private’ in the public, these music enable a much larger sphere of dialogue and contestation of norms and values than state authority allows. I will also be discussing the role of the Internet and satellite television within the musical field in greatly expanding the ‘traditional’ public sphere.


Nahid Siamdoust teaches history and politics of the Middle East and Modern Iran at the University of Oxford, where she recently obtained her PhD in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at St Antony’s College. Her work focuses on the interstices between politics and media.