MESA Book Awards
University of California, Los Angeles
2018 Nikki Keddie Book Award Co-winner
Kevan Harris’s A Social Revolution: Politics and the Welfare State in Iran offers a novel and exciting reflection on state-making in Iran since 1979, while showing how the Iranian regime’s political elite has used a range of strategies to expand its political base and to mobilize multiple publics by allocating welfare provisions. Written in a clear style, A Social Revolution is an exemplary work of research. It builds on multiple methods of data gathering and analysis, and engages with a broad range of scholarship in historical sociology. Harris contends that the post-Revolutionary state managed to maintain the loyalty of the Iranian public during times of internal conflict and foreign wars via the expansion of literacy, women’s education, and the lowering of infant mortality. But at the same time, and more significantly, this new welfare regime stoked a broader dissensus within society along with competition among elite factions. Harris draws on interviews, Persian-language news sources and political documents, and ethnographic fieldwork to demonstrate the long-term effects of this intra-elite conflict on Iranian state-formation. He rejects the conventional idea that the regime is a teetering edifice, while also challenging a number of tired explanations for the durability of the Islamic Republic, including theories of totalitarianism, populism, and rentierism. In the end, Harris de-exceptionalizes Iran and provides a strong scholarly foundation for future research on the contentious politics of the country. Scholars studying post-revolutionary states in the wider Middle East and beyond will benefit from the rich comparative insights that he provides. For all these reasons, the Committee is proud to recognize Kevan Harris’s A Social Revolution as Co-Winner of the Nikki Keddie Book Award.