Difference in difference: language, geography, and ethno-racial identity in contemporary Iran

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Abstract

Three approaches to portraying ethno-racial and national identity for Iran are common: a discretizing approach that groups and conflates ethnicity, language and geography; a civic-territorial conception of nationalism as supra-ethnic Iranian-ness; and an ethno-nationalist approach that criticizes the former for privileging a state-centered, Persian-Shiite majority’s culture and status. Instead of arbitrating between them, we propose a sociological approach that compares different forms of ethno-racial self-identification in modern Iran. Using the 2016 Iran Social Survey, which asks open-ended questions on ethno-racial self-identification, we find wide variation in how ethnic identity is expressed. On the one hand, the findings suggest that a sizable degree of mismatch exists, where concepts of ethnic groupness are confusing or not fully recognizable to many individuals. On the other hand, we also find that multi-ethnic self-identification is common, including across the ethno-racial boundaries often portrayed as closed and mutually exclusive groups in Western discussions on Iran.

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Elling, R., & Harris, K. (2021). Difference in difference: language, geography, and ethno-racial identity in contemporary Iran. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 44(12), 2255–2281. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2021.1895275

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