The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

Charles Kurzman, Author
Charles Kurzman, Author Harvard University Press $27.95 (287p) ISBN 978-0-674-01328-5
Reviewed on: 05/01/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Paperback - 287 pages - 978-0-674-01843-3
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-674-03983-4
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When Elias Canetti, the Nobel-prize winning theorist, spoke of a people's""propensity to incendiarism,"" he had in mind one of the most dangerous traits of mass gatherings: their potential for unpredictable combustibility. Iran's Islamic revolution, like many other uprisings, was a consummate instance of this, Kurzman argues, and he continues in Canetti's tradition by using the Shah's overthrow to engage in his own meditation on crowds and power. Kurzman's investigation propelled him to the Islamic republic, where he conducted countless interviews, in an attempt to chart the eddies and undercurrents of one of the world's most complex and sudden social upheavals. Along the way, he takes a critical tour of canonical political and sociological theory. The result is a thought-provoking combination of journalism and analysis that offers an atypical juxtaposition of voices: shopkeepers, lawyers and high school students share their views on what happened, as do academics and policymakers. Perhaps the most intriguing voice is Kurzman's. His interviews and reading lead him to conclude that any historical approach that seeks to restore""20-20 hindsight"" to Iran's revolutionary movement is mistaken;""explanations in general,"" he decides, are problematic. Instead, he says, one should embrace history in all its specificity, and accept that anomalous behavior and confusion are norms that cannot be neatly decoded.""I propose anti-explanation,"" he says, coining a term that""means abandoning the project of retroactive prediction in favor of reconstructing the lived experience of the moment."" Unquestionably, some readers may feel cheated by this intellectual back flip, especially since this is, unavoidably, an explanation in its own right.
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