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Critical Review of the Iranian Attempts towards the Development of Alternative Sociologies

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Critical Review of the Iranian Attempts towards the Development of Alternative Sociologies

Mohammad Amin Ghaneirad
IAU International Journal of Social Sciences
Publish Date: 

In recent years, social sciences have been ,formally, accused of being secular, western, with non-religious epistemological foundations, being indifferent to social issues and practical needs of the Iranian society and on the other hand, -there are formal attempts to establish an indigenous social science in contrast with universal social sciences. Such indigenization attempts in the realm of sociology have mainly resulted in two programs: The Islamic sociology program and the social and cultural engineering program. Although having the support of some of the academics as well, the bulk of advocates of the two approaches in indigenization program respectively are among specific religious institutions and figures and the governmental ones. This paper specifically aims to analyze the cognitive responses of the Iranian social scientists to these two approaches. Various tendencies have emerged among the Iranian intellectuals as a reaction to these official plans. In terms of the conceptual framework, this paper draws on the concepts of 'alternative discourses' of Syed Farid Alatas, Reawyn Connell’s 'Southern theory', and the four concepts of professional, critical, policy and public sociologies of Michael Burawoy and the questions raised by the paper can be considered in the light of these concepts: Do the Iranian postrevolutionary sociologists' thoughts show the characteristics of alternative discourses? Do these discourses attend to social sciences as a program of democratization of the ‘north’ ‘south’ relations? Do the social sciences discourses in Iran contemplate on the promotion of democracy on the national level? Do these discourses have the required theoretical characteristics to be acceptable within the discipline? Which of the four patterns of sociology mentioned above are reflected in these alternative discourses? The present paper firstly reviews the pre-revolutionary intellectual tradition of alternative social sciences by discussing Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969) and Ali Shariati’s (1933-1977) thoughts and then the post-revolutionary intellectual rupture and the emergence of phobia/taboo on the discussion of indigenization will be described. The main part of the paper will attend to the alternative social sciences among Iranian social scientists in three sections. In nowadays Iran there can be the talk of various global, indigenous, and alternative sociologies. The indigenous social sciences criticize the pre-suppositions in the ontological and epistemological foundations of the mainstream sociology in the universities. However, as long as this view has roots in official and unscientific institutions they can only be called ‘pseudo critical sociology’. The trend of thought which has its roots in governmental interferences rather than academic research programs can be called 'pseudo-policy sociology'. The reaction of these academics in terms of indigenization program of social sciences has been described as a phobia where they are scared of these debates and try to avoid it like a taboo subject. Against such conditions, most of the academics have sought shelter in the universal social sciences and defend it as neutral and objective science. This can be described as the passive consumption of social sciences which is obsessed with the concerns of methodology and has not yet shown much creativity. Several approaches are being developed in against both one-sided universalism and indigenous trends. The Iranian alternative discourses are trying to distance themselves from the paralysis brought about by the phobic situation. The advocates of "simple alternative discourses" while criticizing the official indigenization program, propose a discourse which functions as a substitute and yet defines itself in agreement with the global discourse of sociology. The "dual alternative discourses" avoid the dilemma of indigenous and universal science. They criticize the political and ideological dimensions of both discourses simultaneously and at the same time try not to ignore the democratic and humanist capabilities of attending to indigenous and universal dimensions. This trend of thought call for a formation of an interactive and dialogical world in social sciences and produce thoughts which can reconstruct social sciences as a democratic project both within various local groups and between Iran and the world powers. Perhaps the most creative intellectual trend in Iranian sociology can be traced in the advocates of such dual alternative discourses which have resulted in an expansion of critical and public kinds of sociology in addition to its professional impact. The last section of the paper summarizes these various perspectives and evaluates them against the conceptual framework of our study. The goal of the last section is to evaluate the ‘alternativity’ of these discourses, their functions in democratization of both local and global relations and their shares in promotion of the four mentioned sociologies to higher levels of theoretical capabilities, value legitimation and social influence.


National Research Institute for Science Policy (NRISP) affiliated to the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, I.R. Iran is a think tank in the fields of science and technology policy-making and research in the country.

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