Social Change through Presence: White Marriage in Iran

Maral Sahebjame, is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies PhD program and a graduate fellow in the Department of Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington. My research focus and interests include gender in the Middle East and Muslim-majority societies, ethnography, social movements, and state, law, and society relations in contemporary Iran. Her dissertation title is: “Marriage across the Color Spectrum: Making Commitment Palatable in Iran.”

Abstract for Talk:

In 2014, a Tehran-based women’s magazine published a report on “white marriage” (local term for cohabitation) and was temporarily banned for its alleged promotion of white marriage as the office of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei condemned it for being shameful and contradictory to Islamic values. Since then, academics across the country have held town halls, clerics have made official comments, and health officials have expressed their concerns for the rise in white marriages. As new generations of Iranians re-articulate their desires and expectations in intimate partner relationships, they force state and legal actors to re-think contemporary forms of marriage and re-examine the legal code and system. Using data from ethnographic fieldwork in Iran, this talk examines white marriage through the lens of academics, psychologists, clerical actors, legal actors, and those who are engaged in white marriages. In so doing, it finds that through their everyday practices and their “power of presence,” those engaged in white marriages rewrite gender and marriage norms while participating in a social non-movement that effects social change.