January 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 1

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ASA Forum For Public Discussion and Debate

A Lack of Academic Freedom in Iran

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While we are busy grading papers and educating our students in the United States, sociologists, students, intellectuals, writers and journalists are imprisoned in Iran. Kian Tajbakhsh, a prominent Iranian-American sociologist who has taught at universities as well as worked for international organizations, was recently given a 12-year prison sentence for allegedly "threatening national security." This charge is brought against journalists and scholars as the government continues its containment of dissidents.

The long prison sentence for Tajbakhsh is especially alarming because it signals the harsh treatment of dual citizens by the current political apparatus in Iran. In a complete state of denial of popular opposition to the election results, the Iranian authorities have tried to convince the Iranian people that the opposition movement, now known as the green movement, is directed by the foreign enemies of the state that have penetrated the ranks of the intellectuals, students, journalists, etc. The trial, which was broadcast by the state TV, was produced to show that there is a conspiracy at work; these "satanic forces," which include the United States (even as the Iranian authorities engage in negotiations with the U.S. government over nuclear energy) are trying to foment a velvet revolution in Iran.

But the opposition to the Ahmadinejad government is real. The official announcement of the results of the 10th Iranian Presidential election on June 12, 2009, sent a shock wave throughout the society. While in the past, fraud was common among the authorities in city council elections in the provinces or officials had moved numbers by 2 to even 3 million, most analysts of Iranian politics agreed that fraud exceeding 3 million was not manageable and therefore would not happen. Yet, on the eve of the election fraud did in fact occur. The reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Moussavi who had enjoyed popular support among Iranian youth—the majority of the population in Iran—was reported to have lost the elections by a wide margin. Opposition to the election results and to what some identified as a coup by the right-wing Sepah-e Pasdaran (the revolutionary guards) supporting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad engulfed Iran.

The right to peacefully protest is a fundamental right of Iranian citizens granted to them by their own constitution, and yet this right has been violated by the authorities, who have violently broken up protests and harassed, arrested, and imprisoned protestors and dissidents following the election. When the universities re-opened this fall many returning students were barred for having taken part in the summer protests. More than 40 journalists have escaped Iran and many are in hiding. And now, a long prison sentence for our fellow sociologist, Kian Tadjbakhsh whose appeals and recently his bail have been rejected by the Iranian judicial power.

Elham Gheytanchi, Santa Monica College

Editor's Note: As of an October 21, 2009, letter to Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Khamenei, ASA urged the Iranian leadership to free imprisoned sociologist Kian Tadjbakhsh.'


Non-labeling: Using a Case and a Film to Visualize a Social Model

The labeling theory of "mental illness," although it has the approval of sociologists, has little impact on views and practices in other disciplines, such as psychology and psychiatry, much less in the larger society. The medical model retains its firm grip on perception of the problem. Currently, there is some evidence supporting labeling theory, but the main difficulty may be metaphoric. People can easily visualize the medical model, normality and abnormality, but labeling theory did not provide sufficient concrete instances to envision a social model. The original theory particularly provided few concrete examples of the non-labeling of residual rule-breaking. This may be the main reason that labeling theory has not attracted the attention of the public at large.

In recent lectures, I have usedepisodes in a film and from real life to illustrate the basic metaphor. The real-life case describes how a psychiatrist who does not prescribe drugs normalizes the symptoms of a young man who is restless and in constant movement.

The film is Lars and the Real Girl (2007). Independently of labeling theory, it describes a complete visual experience of the social model of managing residual rule-breaking, to the point that it doesn't become residual deviance ("mental illness"). The protagonist, Lars, is isolated and delusional, but his rule-breaking is successfully managed by his community (It takes a village…). My lecture uses excerpts from this film to show second-by-second dialogue in a social, rather than medical framework.

There is also a psychological side to the film, the informal psychotherapy provided to Lars by the family doctor. This part is quite intelligent, like the rest of the film, but I don't have time in my talks to do it justice, nor do I want to divert attention from the labeling approach.

The effect of this talk on small groups of students has been electrifying. After a 30-minute lecture, the 20-minute discussion session clearly shows that the great majority understand how labeling theory might provide a better approach than the medical model. Since most of the viewers have been either freshmen or non-sociology majors, the talk also serves as an introduction to sociological thinking. logo_small

Thomas J. Scheff, University of California-Santa Barbara

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