The Drs. Fereidoun and Katharine Mirhady Endowed Lecture in Iranian Studies is an Annual Lecture series featuring research and scholars with a particular focus on Iran and its role in the wider Middle East.

The Mirhady Lecture in Iranian Studies returns with an examination of the creation of Iran's modern prison system and its importance to Iranian political modernity. Seating capacity is limited - be sure to register today to secure your seat!

The Making of the Carceral State in Modern Iran

Speaker: Golnar Nikpour, Assistant Professor of History (Dartmouth College)

Date: April 4, 2024

Location: SFU Harbour Centre, Room 1900 | 515 W. Hastings St., Vancouver BC

Time: 6PM

Abstract: This lecture examines the making of Iran’s modern prison system and argues that this system is a foundational institution of Iranian political modernity. A prevailing popular view on Iran’s prisons assumes that their history begins with the 1979 revolution, and that post-revolutionary punishments, often coded as “Islamic,” are pre-modern vestiges rather than constitutive of a modern carceral state. The Incarcerated Modern challenges this assumption and instead traces the transformation of Iran from a decentralized empire with few incarcerated persons at the turn of the 20th century into a modern state with a vast prison network with well over a quarter million prisoners today. The talk – drawn from my recent book – analyzes a multilingual, interdisciplinary archive to explore the interplay between the concrete space of the Iranian prison and the historical role of prisons in producing new public cultures and political languages.

Golnar Nikpour is an Assistant Professor of History at Dartmouth College and a scholar of modern Iranian political and intellectual history. Nikpour has served as an A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and as Neubauer Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. Her research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the A.W. Mellon Foundation, and the Whiting Foundation, and her writing has appeared in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development; The International Journal of Middle East Studies; The Canadian Journal of History; The New York Times, and Jadaliyya. Her first book, The Incarcerated Modern: Prisons and Public Life in Iran, is out now on Stanford University Press.

Praise for The Incarcerated Modern: Prisons and Public Life in Iran:

"Prisons that purport to isolate from public view nevertheless have a public life, Golnar Nikpour contends in this revelatory study. The Incarcerated Modern's depiction of transnational solidarity and human rights movements attempting to confront carcerality worldwide is acute and indispensable."

—Samuel Moyn, Yale University

"The Incarcerated Modern tells the story of Iran's transformation from a fading empire into a modern nation-state. Steeped in rich archival research, the book brilliantly unpacks the foundational significance of the carceral system and reveals the paradox of this massive system of surveillance—stabilizing the state while creating the space in which modern political movements came into being. A must read!"

—Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Princeton University

"The Incarcerated Modern is one of those exceptionally rare, original books that transcends academic disciplines and opens up myriad terrains of inquiry. Golnar Nikpour powerfully and convincingly illustrates how the modern prison is global in scope—linked to colonial histories, nation-states, and global politics."

—Shahla Talebi, Arizona State University