MESA Graduate Student Paper Prize

Fatemeh Hosseini

University of Maryland
College Park

2009 Winner

Whores or Wives: Discourses on Prostitution in Modern Iran, 1969-2006

The committee has selected the paper entitled “Whores or Wives: Discourses on Prostitution in Modern Iran, 1969-2006” for the 2009 MESA Student Paper Prize. Although all the submissions were good, this paper stood out for its exploration of new and important territory and the future potential of the research conducted to contribute to the study of gender and sexualities in the larger context of Middle East studies. This paper studies discourses about and representations of prostitution in Iran from the last decade of the Pahlavi monarchy up through the first two or three decades of the Islamic republic. The paper shows how in these two different political contexts the subject of prostitution was marshaled in the service of two very different programs of modernization, one secular and one religious. The paper concludes by arguing that the study of prostitution in Iran can contribute to a general reevaluation (or, in the author’s words, a “destabilization”) of the notion of prostitution, especially in the context of Shiite institutions of family law, and that such a reevaluation will enrich both Middle East studies and feminist categories of analysis more generally. Since little has been written on prostitution in Iran, and the subject is otherwise generally under studied in the field, the paper’s originality is clear. Such research has the potential to open up new areas of study and to complicate our pictures of gender and sexuality in the region and beyond.

2009 Committee
Joseph E. Lowry, University of Pennsylvania, Chair
Lucia Volk, San Francisco State University
Jessica Winegar, Northeastern University

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