Rediscovery of the “Self” in Iranian Weblogs

Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I’ll come up: if not, I’ll stay down here till I’m somebody else. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In spite of claims to a ‘universal’ language, the internet is a new public space/sphere grounded in particular socio-cultural aspects of everyday life. Its cultural significance varies considerably from place to place according to people’s diverse experiences, lacks, needs and aspirations. In democratic societies, cyberspace is often viewed as an ‘alter’ space of information, research and leisure that functions in a parallel or complementary fashion to existing public spaces and institutions. In countries where public spaces are controlled by traditional or restrictive cultural forces, however, the internet can take on varied signification. In Iran, where the public sphere is closely monitored and regulated by traditional and state forces, the internet has become a means to resist the restrictions imposed on these spaces. For people living in these countries, especially marginalized groups such as youth and women, the internet can be a space more ‘real’ than everyday life. From this perspective, an analysis of internet use is an important tool by which to study socio-cultural forms hidden in everyday life but revealed in the virtual world.

One of the best ways to study the socio-cultural ramifications of the internet in Iran is through weblogs which became immensely popular after the Unicode system made typing in Persian possible. Weblogs, especially among middle class youth, have become a key site for Iranians to participate in the new virtual world and, at the same time, rediscover their own selves and desires while constructing new relations and communities often not possible in real spaces. Weblogs also reveal important trends, desires and transformations in the subjectivities of Iran’s next generation as well as an ongoing struggle between youth and traditional and state authorities over the limits placed on public discourse.

In this regard, the Internet and weblogs can be considered a tool of empowerment for youth and women, as well as other marginalized social groups. For youth, this empowerment begins with a redefinition of the Self and consolidation of new identities. Many of them believe that their “real/true” identities have been “lost/repressed/ hidden” in the real/physical public spaces of Iran. The act of weblog writing in the universal, yet also semi-private space of the internet, can help them discover, reconstruct or crystallize their “true” selves in virtual public spaces. In the absence of the body, these new “bodiless-selves” enter a new world and form new communities which are restricted and controlled in their real physical spaces. At the same time, this study *1 found that some of these new identities can encounter new sources of limitation, self-censorship and disempowerment in the virtual, as well as real, spaces.

Daily performance in public spaces in Tehran

Ervin Goffman has convincingly argued that in every society individuals consciously play roles and wear social masks in public spaces. In Anglo-American culture, for example, conceptions of behavior take two forms: they can be real, sincere and honest or they can be false and contrived. *2 In either case, these social masks represent conceptions that we have formed of ourselves. In democratic societies, social masks and roles tend to more closely resemble an individual’s true character. The false mask is taken as unserious and insincere performance, while the real and honest one is “an unintentional product of the individual’s unselfconscious response to the facts in his situation.” *3 Though social roles are also multiple and pre-determined (a women, for example, can simultaneously be employee, wife and mother), the dominant culture allows individuals the freedom to select according to one’s own character.

In societies like Iran after the revolution, however, where public spaces are regulated by the state and tradition, real and honest performances are more difficult to realize, especially for women and youth. During Iran’s 1979 revolution, Tehran’s urban public spaces – similar to many other countries during a revolution – became the scene of revolutionary spectacle. The revolutionary masses appropriated the streets to participate in the overthrow of a long-standing monarchy and display their support for a new revolutionary authority. With the establishment of the Islamic Republic, however, revolutionary performances became institutionalized. New patterns of behavior and predetermined social roles based on Islamic and ‘traditional’ values were invented in terms of appearance, body language and speech. Adaptation to these new kinds of performances became crucial to social negotiations in post-revolutionary Iranian society.

In the first decade after the revolution (and to a lesser extent today), for example, interactions with government institutions and bureaucrats necessitated a specific model of self-presentation. Men were required to wear dark-colored clothing, three-day facial stubble and untucked long-sleeve shirts buttoned to the neck. Women had to appear without any make-up in a black chador *• or dark-colored manteau and maghna’e *†. Besides conforming to Islamic dress, this model sought the erasure of any indicator of socio-cultural or economic difference.

A non-traditional model of self-presentation, nevertheless, continue to exist alongside the new Islamic codes, especially in settings outside the direct control of the state. In private offices, shopping centers, parks, restaurants, cinemas, and other loci which symbolize Western settings, ‘modern’ appearance, behavior and speech are the socially expected norm. An entirely different set of performances and rules, however, are required in traditional settings, such as the bazaar, mosques and older neighborhoods. By negotiating the appropriate appearance and conduct in such diverse public and private settings through the use of multiple behavioral strategies, individuals preserve and sustain their real selves in everyday life.

Since the revolution, more than ever before, ‘multiple personalities’ have become second nature to Iranian society. To maintain their security and right of presence in social spaces, individuals must obey assorted codes that are particular to each space (private, public, official, etc.) or vis-à-vis their counterparts (women/men, youth/elders, children/parents, students/instructors, ordinary individuals/morality enforcers). While such codes existed in Iran well before the revolution and in general, more or less in any society, the Islamic Republic has refashioned them, forcing individuals to play roles and to adapt new appearances according to the revolutionary moral system. This has led to a strategy of dissimulation and invisibility that has become part of the process of social inclusion and negotiation in post-revolutionary Iran. This dissimulation and social invisibility in terms of appearances and behaviors is constantly shifting according to variables such as place, time and spectators, and is defined according to the status, gender and age of social actors. For many women and youth, for example, particular urban districts and hours of the day demand concomitant performances. *4

As women and youth have traditionally been the focus of moral monitoring and control, their public compliance has been especially important in the post-revolutionary era. Initially, women and young men’s social presence was preconditioned on conforming to constructed models based on religious figures such as Hazrat-e Fatemeh and Imam Hussein. These models, however, have been outpaced by rapid changes in the modern world *5 and, consequently, appropriated by youth and women in new ways. Paradoxically, by adapting and conforming their appearance to these predetermined Islamic socio-cultural models, Iranian youth and women gradually introduced major and irreversible social changes to them. In recent years, women and youth affected small and seemingly unimportant, yet continuous changes in their appearance, demeanor, and social presence in homeopathic doses which ultimately has changed dominant models of self-presentation and led to new and spontaneous forms.

Even with these relative gains in freedom, for many women and youth revealing their true selves after two decades of conformity, dissimulation and social invisibility is not an easy task. In Iranian society, visibility in public spaces entails individuals putting their selves on display before the judgment of traditional society and risking the loss of social security. Two decades of continuously playing contradictory roles in different spaces (in action or reaction to the codes of conduct of a revolutionary society) has led to a kind of identity crisis, especially among youth, whose only lived experience is under the Islamic Republic.

Thus, for many Iranian youth the main questions today are: Who am I? What do I want? If I were somewhere else, how would I live? How would I dress? With whom would I associate? In the spaces of my daily life, to what extent am I “myself”? These are questions that perhaps do not plague the youth of other countries to such an extent. In a society where, despite the state’s restrictions, new relations and patterns of behavior have become ‘normal’ for at least the middle-class, individuals want to re-define their “self” according to new definitions which are not based on a particular model, or as a reaction to them. For many Iranian youth, there is no opportunity to live elsewhere. As such, one of the most effective and immediate means of self rediscovery is through the internet, where prescribed or reactive roles in “real” space can be abandoned in favor of desired or truer identities in “virtual” space.

Rediscovery of the self in virtual space

The absence of the body in virtual space allows for the formation of identities and roles that differ from those possible in the real world. In Iran, the internet has become a key space for the rediscovery of self, socialization, dialogue, and the creation of social life that for various social, cultural, and political reasons does not often exist in real public spaces. The lack of freedom in real public spaces has rendered virtual spaces an important site for new encounters, the formation of communities, finding friends (especially of the opposite sex) and, finally, the possibility of redefining the self according to one’s own narrative/liking.

Thus, virtual space in Iran is a space for shaping repressed identities in all their simple and complicated forms. Through the continuous practice of writing, individuals can assert layers of their personality that they were hitherto unable to in real life. It is a new public space which has more qualitative than quantitative importance for Iranians. In this new space, youth, women and intellectuals (and other educated groups who have been excluded from the real public sphere) are making their voices heard, especially through weblogs. *6 The arrival of the Unicode system in the digital world has made the entry of young middle-class Iranians in cyberspace much easier; the Persian font and the possibility of typing in Persian have made possible an indigenous approach to the internet. Weblogs have since become another “real” space to discuss matters censored in ordinary and real public spaces, but this time more through text than talk. Weblogs, through their “comments” section, allow an open and wide discussion between different social actors on an unprecedented scale. In this sense, weblogs have become realms and spaces where all kinds of discussion and interaction between readers and writers can take place. The continual availability of and access to past written records and archives give youth greater self-awareness and self-development. More than any other generation, they have the ability to review and consider their past and their relations with others. In addition, weblog archives provide others with the ability to judge and comment on their track records. The existence of such archives forces bloggers to think more about what they write and accept responsibility for it. It goes without saying that the more famous the blogger, the more responsibility s/he feels towards his/her readers.

Through text and personal history, individuals gradually create a narrative of self in virtual space entirely new, even for them. Through this narrative, individuals undergo a process of identity-formation which the virtual world makes increasingly possible. In transient interactions such as chatrooms, these identities can be temporary and unstable. In weblogs, however, identities are gradually formed, crystallized and transformed into secondary identities for webloggers. The first indicator is the weblog name which not only contains an identity, but also the individuality of the virtual author. At the same time, because this new persona is formed through writing and possesses a past that can be accessed in the archives, weblog readers address and interact with a consistent virtual character. To maintain this consistency and coherence of character, the blogger is obliged to abide by a more vigorous discipline of thought and articulation than is required in real spaces. The individual acquires a new ‘real’ or “constructed” virtual identity that can be measured and judged by others. Daily and repeated writings, the existence of an archive, and permanent exposure to others’ opinions give individuals a broader conception of “self.” According to Rebecca Blood, one of the world’s first webloggers,

Shortly after I began producing Rebecca’s Pocket I noticed two side effects I had not expected. First, I discovered my own interests. More importantly, I began to value more highly my own point of view….In composing my link text everyday I carefully considered my own opinions and ideas, and I began to feel that my perspective was unique and important.

This profound experience may be most purely realized in the blog-style weblog…the blogger, by virtue of simply writing down whatever is on his mind, will be confronted with his own thoughts and opinions. Blogging every day, he will become a more confident writer. A community of 100 or 20 or 3 people may spring up around the public record of his thoughts. As he enunciates his opinions daily, this new awareness of his inner life may develop into a trust in his own perspective. *7

Rebecca Blood’s account of her experiences with weblogging reveals that in spite of the absence of the body in virtual space, a continuous presence of mind before others leads to the attainment of an identity that is clearer and even stronger than the one existing in actual space. Individuals who do not self-censor and openly express themselves gradually acquire an identity that is more well-rounded and self-aware. This can even be true for individuals who consciously or subconsciously censor themselves. For these individuals, perhaps the “comments” section, where others interact with the blogger and react to his or her writings, becomes a mirror in which they can see themselves as they are seen by others and establish their position in virtual society. Allowing others to express themselves in a space which is considered personal, reading and refusing to delete their opinions and reactions, ultimately amounts to a new kind of social negotiation through transparency and non-censorship in virtual space. According to one an Iranian weblogger,

In my previous weblog there was no ‘comments’ section. I mean I did not allow others to voice their opinions, although it had plenty of visitors. From the beginning to the end, it was like no one was even there, much like the way I lived. The things I wrote in it were offensive to some, or seemed to be selfish to others….When I started my new weblog…it came with its own ‘comments’ space. I began to find it very interesting. As others commented and I responded, I noticed a gradual change in my real life as well. It was like I began accepting others more readily. Because of this, I show up more often in gatherings and express myself. It just happened on its own, and the weblog affected my life. *8

The crystallization of identity through weblogs

Perhaps one of the most important affects of weblogs is its influence on the socio-cultural character and its freeing of the hidden layers of the individual’s identity. Just as in politics where the main tendency of the world is the move from a monophonic and autocratic system to a polyphonic and democratic one, in the social arena also a single static conception of the self is changing to a new narrative where the self is multiple, fragmented, flexible and composite. According to the Iranian philosopher, Dariush Shayegan:

Today’s human being can no longer contain their existence within the confines of one defined identity. The more we emphasize our own identities, the more we proclaim our affiliation to a certain group or nation, the more we show the vulnerability of our own identities. In this sense, people today have an identity crisis in that identity is no longer a unified compilation of stable and definitive values. *9

Shayegan cites the Italian writer, Erri de Luca, who points to the importance of writing in the formation and shaping of diverse identities:

Every one of us has hidden multitudes within ourselves, even though, with the passage of time, we are drawn to transforming this multiplicity into a groundless individual. We are forced to remain individuals and have only one name to which we are accountable. Therefore, we have habituated the diverse personalities within ourselves to silence. Writing helps us rediscover them [my emphasis]. *10

From this perspective, the internet and weblogs become a space to define identities and unknown layers and/or reproduce the silenced and diverse multiplicity within individuals. Sometimes the hidden layer is that personality that the weblogger because of social and cultural limitations is forced to repress in the real world, and through writing and often under a pseudonym, now reveals in virtual space. Other times, it is the persona that the individual has dreamt of presenting but because of psychological and social impediments has been unable to do so. This latter definition shows itself more in democratic societies. Sherry Turkle quotes a conversation with a woman who has made a date with a man she has been chatting with for several months. The woman is anxious because she feels a schism between her virtual and real identities:

I didn’t exactly lie to him about anything specific, but I feel very different online. I am a lot more outgoing, less inhibited. I would say I feel more like myself. But that’s a contradiction. I feel more like who I wish I was. I’m just hoping that face to face I can find a way to spend some time being the online me. *11

If in chatrooms, this identity-formation only takes shape through continuous interactions with specific people, in weblogs, this process occurs more thoroughly. Shabah (Spectre) is a famous Iranian weblogger whose identity is unknown to most of his readers. However, his spectral and invisible identity was gradually stabilized and crystallized and also influenced his real identity. Shabah seems to be a middle-aged educated male, whose frequent and active presence in virtual space has garnered him a wide readership, especially among young webloggers. Even though, owing to his sex and age, Shabah can enjoy more freedoms than women and more stability than youth, he believes that blogging has changed him and that continuous interaction with his readers has released an inner “me” of which he was previously unaware:

Virtual life is not entirely fulfilling but it is an enjoyable life. Part of the personality is given a chance to appear without the presence of the body…even though, ultimately, a big part of the self comes out through writings and thoughts. With the passage of time, the virtual personality conforms to the real personality. This virtual life has had a spectacular effect on my real life. In fact, this real “me” is no longer the same real “me” of before. I am pleased with this virtual “me” and with the effect it has had on the real “me,” and I have all of you to thank.

I want to say that the opportunity to reveal this virtual personality was made possible by this space. I have learned and grown a great deal in these past two years…. I sometimes don’t recognize myself….It’s as if somebody else was breathing inside me. The one who was imprisoned in this body for years has now, because of your kind sting, been released. *12

The extent to which the individual constructs his or her identity in weblogs is a question that many have asked in their real lives. As previously stated, this identity takes shape through the passage of time and the accumulation of records. Ultimately, the multiple images of “self” solidify to form a new persona which is composed of the individual’s hidden layers or image of a particular social character which s/he feels obligated to respect in real space as well. According to Osyan (Rebellion),

At first you build a weblog, then it is the weblog which manipulates you. Sometimes I think that I must adhere to that personality that I am showing in my weblog. Not that I should maintain appearances, but that I must make it consistent. If I made a claim to feminism, for example, then I must live up to it in my real life. *13

Gender and the “self,” inside the mirror

Perhaps one of the main reasons for the popularity of the internet and the high use of weblogs among Iranian women, youth and intellectuals is the search for and reconstruction of a lost or forgotten identity. In the process of recreating identities, the virtual space of the internet becomes a new mirror in which individuals see themselves the way they truly are or want to be, or see those parts of themselves that they have censored. For many bloggers, the weblog becomes a mirror into their souls; a place where they represent their true selves and define themselves according to their liking, without the social and cultural constraints that impede them in real spaces. For women, who are constantly playing roles in a moralistic society, this takes on added significance. The internet and weblogs become a mirror in which youth and women can see their “hidden selves” and/or “repressed selves.”

For me, “mirror” is the best description for the weblog. Because we learn to look at our selves through our own eyes. We look at our “self,” but we can also look as we want to, like in a mirror. [Male blogger – Harfhaye yek alpar – (The Words of an Alpar)] *14

Sometimes you forget who you are. Then when I read my weblog and see myself there, it calms me and I feel better. [Female blogger – Sara Dar Ayeneh (Sara in the Mirror)] *15

On the internet, men can be themselves much more. We women have many more hidden layers in society which we are able to bring out much easier on the internet. [Female blogger – Omgh (Depth)] *16

Here lies the main difference between Iranian female and male bloggers. In most interviews, men bloggers believed that the self-image they presented in their weblogs was very similar to their real selves. As in real life, where they feel less obliged to play predetermined roles, in weblogs men also felt less of a need to play roles in comparison to women. Women tend to maintain a more guarded persona in weblogs. The absence of face to face contact allows women more freedom to express themselves and their desires in virtual space, especially when they remain unknown and anonymous. When their identity is revealed, however, cultural codes limit women’s self-expression as it does in the real world and inhibits their ability to show their true personality even in weblogs.

In spite of the increased feelings of freedom in cyberspace, both female and male webloggers practice self-censorship. Yet, their censorship of the “self” is different in cyberspace in the sense that the individual decides the limits. In this regard, the subjectivity of the “self” among bloggers is one of the most important characteristics of this medium.

We could have called the “self” the “individual” instead. But why do we say “myself”? We are witnessing a sort of beginning and end of everything. “Myself” starts with “me” until it’s censored. It is me who censors, me who eliminates, me who types. The subjectivity is very important, and more important is the fact that no one else plays a significant role in it. *17

Censor and self-censorship in weblogs, a gender perspective

In cyberspace many rules and concepts are radically different from the real world. In the real world, power and authority are related to the opacity of information and, thus, to censorship. The spirit of the internet, however, is premised on transparency and, thus, the absence of opacity and censorship. It is in this sense that the struggles of Iranian youth to remove state imposed filters on weblogs and websites can be understood as the start of a social movement for empowerment in cyberspace. Many Iranian webloggers, regardless of age and gender, believe that the state has no right to filter any website (porn, political, religious, etc.). They believe websites should be accessible to all and that their viewing should be a matter of individual choice. This, however, does not mean that they favor no controls on internet usage. Indeed, many bloggers support some kind of ethical code in their virtual communities, including certain restrictions on pornography, especially child pornography. Nevertheless, the primary concern of the majority of female webloggers is the preservation of their anonymity and independence.

The ethics of weblogs has its roots in the outside world. Outside we have many restrictive ethical codes, but here on the weblog we also have some very useful ones. For example, to expose one’s identity or to interfere with other weblogs is considered a betrayal. *18

The attitude of interviewed webloggers to porn sites is revealing. Some considered porn sites potentially educational, especially if they contained good information about sex. Even more interesting, however, is that many webloggers believed that the majority of erotic weblogs or websites purportedly written by women were, in fact, penned by men: “because a woman would never write like that!”

In fact, the important cultural and gender bias placed on what is considered vulgar in Iran can be observed in the different ways that women and men censor themselves in weblogs. Perhaps owing to their greater socio-cultural freedoms, men primarily feel the need to practice self-censorship in socio-political matters. In their weblogs, the boundary between acceptable topics of discussion and vulgarity is more defined and similar to the real world than for women. Many men do not like to write about their personal lives just as they choose not to speak about it in their real lives because they consider such revelations a “girl’s occupation.” In spite of this male chauvinism, many young men are beginning to write more introspectively in their weblogs. The key difference, however, between men and women is that in general young men feel much more free to express their personal experiences with dating and the opposite sex. In fact, many Iranians believe that it is the right of men to talk about their intimate experiences up to a certain point, but view such revelations by women as vulgar. While men tend to not judge each other over these matters, this is not the case for women who generally refrain from writing about such topics.

The greater freedoms accorded to masculine subjectivities is one of the main reasons that male bloggers tend to write under their own names much more frequently than women bloggers. Many men believe that they do not need to have multiple weblogs, because they can express themselves through a single weblog.

Once, last year, I stopped blogging for two months….After two or three weeks of not writing, I knew I couldn’t not write like many others who can’t write or have to change their names or start a new weblog to remain unknown. But I couldn’t write anonymously. I saw that even if I had the choice to write in five weblogs, I couldn’t do it….Maybe it was a problem of time as well, but I thought that a person can’t have five mirrors, he can only have one. *19

For women, self-censorship is primarily socio-cultural in nature and speaks of their conditions as women in real life. Since women are under more pressure to fulfill their social roles in public spaces, in virtual space they are more cautious and self-conscious of their roles as women than as citizens. Many women who enter cyberspace and weblogs with their real names and identities (known or later revealed), soon afterwards must contend with the same limitations and restrictions they face in everyday real life.

Because my weblog has been identified, I can’t say everything because there are eyes watching us. If my family discovers that I am ‘Omgh,’ they [the family] will want to still see me in the same way. Therefore my weblog is not similar to me except when it turns into a shout, that is when all the particles in my body want to shout. For example, if I fall in love, I will never write about it in my weblog unless a line of poetry comes to me, and I write it. This is because my weblog is known and it is part of my public life, not my private life. As such, I cannot say everything in my weblog. In our society, women cannot accurately reveal themselves. If their weblog has been identified, this will happen there as well. *20

This kind of self-censorship exists even when the female blogger’s real identity remains unknown to readers while her virtual identity has become established and famous. In these cases, female bloggers try to present a socially acceptable and decent image of themselves through a constructed identity. For this reason, some female webloggers, prefer to have two or more weblogs. In one weblog they present their established (real or virtual) identity, and in their other weblogs, they write under other pseudonyms about issues which are not possible to discuss in their main weblog. For example, the well-known weblog, Nooshi o Joojehash (Nooshi and her chicks), is written by a woman in the middle of a legal battle over the custody of her children. The weblog could be characterized as a ‘mother’s weblog’ in that Nooshi ordinarily writes about the humorous words and deeds of her children. She rarely comments about herself or her personal problems. Although this weblog enjoys a wide readership and her real identity is unknown, her established virtual identity prevents her from speaking openly about herself.

If one day I want to speak about myself as a woman, it will not be possible in this weblog. I would have to anonymously open another weblog and speak about myself as a woman, and not as a mother. Because if I mix womanly issues with motherly ones in my weblog, I will certainly lose many of my readers. *21

When the real identity of a person (particularly women and youth) are revealed in weblogs, most individuals are forced to retreat to their artificial personalities of the real world and follow those same limitations and requirements in the virtual world. Put another way, the weblog space becomes another manifestation of real space. But the possibility of free expression is a valuable one which bloggers are unwilling to abandon easily. For them, honesty with oneself is an irreversible experience, even if there is a heavy price to pay in the real world. For some female webloggers who have experienced free expression and interaction, a return to the limitations of the real world is far more difficult than accepting the consequences of “being oneself” in virtual space.

This weblog was supposed to be a window for unspoken words, for those things that I couldn’t or wouldn’t say, to write those unspoken words that can’t be uttered in front of “elders” because they judge against their own standards. Initially, when the writer of ‘Carpe Diem’ was just a name, everything was really good. However, it gradually became more difficult. The temptation to see the rest of the names resulted in Ayda’s name slowly acquiring a particular face…. For a while, I didn’t like this. I didn’t want to have to censor myself in my own little world. However, I slowly got used to it. Not to censorship, no. But to being myself and to not think of people who judge me based on my writings when I write. *22

*********************

As a new domain and public space in Iran, weblogs have acquired various meanings for Iranian women and youth. On the one hand, they are used in the process of identity formation and self rediscovery. On the other hand, they have created new relationships based on the free and democratic space of the internet. For years, under the influence of traditional society, women and youth have stifled their real selves to fulfill their prescribed roles. But the process of identity formation and search for identity, alongside lessening social restrictions of recent years, has resulted in real spaces acquiring a capacity to break the authority of traditional society and question the traditional relationships that govern Iranian society.

The possibility of listening to women’s speech/feminine discourse and men’s speech/masculine discourse, as well as those of youth as it relates to their wants, dreams, thoughts and challenges through text, without the presence of the body, and with the elimination of boundaries between private and public discourse, has created a new opportunity for Iranians to discuss matters in ways not possible before. In this light, the Iranian weblogestan (weblog-city) has become a new public sphere, non-existent in the Iranian real world.

Although these new dimensions can also be constructed and transient, they pose multiple and diverse questions, each of which can be pieces of a fragmented mirror that form a whole. For most Iranian webloggers, the weblog is a mirror that reflects their inner realities – the way they really are (or think they are) or want to be, not the way they learned to be in traditional society. For Iranian youth, the construction of a new order under the Islamic Republic based on an awareness and understanding of the self provides a sense of freedom in a space where they can reach and rediscover the “self” that had been stifled. This is the wondrous journey in the wonderland of the weblog.

1.This study is part of a larger research project, “Authority and Public Spaces in Iran,” which was assisted by an International Collaborative Research Grant from the Social Science Research Council’s Program on the Middle East & North Africa. Data from this study was obtained through regular consultation of weblogs, different focus groups and personal interviews with webloggers.

2.Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life , New York: Doubleday, 1959 , p. 71

3.Goffman , ibid, p.72

•A long outer garment, open down the front, and draped over a woman’s head and extending to her feet. The loose fabric is enfolded in such a way as to conceal the woman’s body while keeping her face and hands exposed.

°. A loose-fitting coat varying in length and thickness.

†. A fabric that is worn over a woman’s head to conceal her hair and that extends to her chest. Fitted around the hairline to frame the face, the fabric falls loosely from beneath the chin to the chest for the concealment of the neck and chest as well.

4. Masserat Amir-Ebrahimi, “Public Spaces in Enclosure” in Pages: Public and Private , First issue, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Holland. Feb. 2004, http://www.pagesmagazine.net/masserat.html

5. See Ziba Jalali Naini, ‘Women’s Studies in Iranian universities: Seizure of a fading movement’ and Nayereh Tohidi, ‘The Iranian Feminist Movement’s Global Connections,’ Goft-o-gu 38, 2003.

6. Weblog is a personal cyber-journal, consultable by all internet surfers that became widespread in 1999. Two important characteristics of weblogs are that they are regularly updated and have a special space for reader comments which consequently makes important interactions between the readers and author possible. The first Iranian weblog was created on September 2001 by Salman Jariri http://www.globalpersian.com/salman/weblog.html . Two months later Hossein Derakhshan ( http://i.hoder.com/ ), a young Iranian journalist, released a weblog construction guide in Persian in the hopes that the number of Iranian weblogs would reach a hundred within a year. In less than two months, the number of Iranian weblogs exceeded hundreds. Today, there are more than 64,000 Persian weblogs, ranking Persian as the fourth most popular weblog language in the world behind English, French and Portuguese (See: http://www.blogcensus.net/?page=lang ). In addition, there are many Iranian webloggers who write in English and thus they are not counting amongst Iranian webloggers.

7. http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.htm.

8. http://masoudborbor.blogspot.com/ .

Note that all quotations in this article belong to a study I conducted on Iranian weblogs and webloggers between 2002-04. The results of this study will be published in numerous articles. According to the wish of the participants, all quotations are attributed to their weblog names and addresses and not their true names. Quotations taken directly from their weblogs can be found in the archives.

9. Dariush Shayegan, Ex Occidente lux , F. Valiani (Persian trans.) (Tehran, Farzan, 2001), p. 134 [English translation by Bad Jens].

10. Cited in Shayegan, p. 133.

11. Sherry Turkle, Life On the Screen (New York, Touchstone, 1995), p. 179 .

12. http://www.shabah.org/archives/cat_oeoeoeu.html. See: ‘Spectral Narcissism,’ January 24 , 2004.

13. http://osyan.blogspot.com/ .

14. http://www.alpr.persianblog.com/ .

15. http://www.ayene.org/ .

16. http://omgh.persianblog.com/ .

17. http://www.alpr.persianblog.com/ .

18. http://omgh.persianblog.com/ .

19. http://www.alpr.persianblog.com/ .

20. http://omgh.persianblog.com/ .

21. Telephone interview. See http://nooshi.blogspot.com/ .

22. http://www.ayda.ws/ . (February 24, 2004).

Masserat Amir-Ebrahimi is an urban sociologist and geographer who has worked extensively on Tehran, particularly on the southern parts of the city. Since 2001, she has been serving as the executive and scientific coordinator of the Atlas of Tehran Metropolis a collaborative project between Le monde iranien of the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) and the Tehran Geographical Information Center (TGIC). Currently she is conducting research on new public spheres and the impact of cyberspace on the daily lives of women and youth in Tehran.

One thought on “Rediscovery of the “Self” in Iranian Weblogs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s