The Incarcerated Modern: Prisons and Public Life in Iran

The Incarcerated Modern: Prisons and Public Life in Iran

Iran’s prison system is a foundational institution of Iranian political modernity. The Incarcerated Modern traces the transformation of Iran from a decentralized empire with few imprisoned persons at the turn of the twentieth century into a modern nation-state with over a quarter million prisoners today. In policing the line between “bad criminal” and “good citizen,” the carceral system has shaped and reshaped Iranian understandings of citizenship, freedom, and political belonging.

Golnar Nikpour explores the interplay between the concrete space of the Iranian prison and the role of prisons in producing new public cultures and political languages in Iran. From prison writings of 1920s leftist prisoners and communiqués of 1950s militant Islamists, to paintings of 1970s revolutionary guerrillas and mapping projects organized by contemporary dissident prisoners, carceral confinement has shaped modern Iranian political movements. Today, mass incarceration is a global phenomenon. The Incarcerated Modern connects Iranian history to transnational carceral histories to illuminate the shared architectures, economies, and techniques of modern punishment.

About the author

Golnar Nikpour is Assistant Professor of History at Dartmouth College.

“Prisons that purport to isolate from public view nevertheless have a public life, Golnar Nikpour contends in this revelatory study. The Incarcerated Modern‘s depiction of transnational solidarity and human rights movements attempting to confront carcerality worldwide is acute and indispensable.”

—Samuel Moyn, Yale University

The Incarcerated Modern tells the story of Iran’s transformation from a fading empire into a modern nation-state. Steeped in rich archival research, the book brilliantly unpacks the foundational significance of the carceral system and reveals the paradox of this massive system of surveillance—stabilizing the state while creating the space in which modern political movements came into being. A must read!”

—Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Princeton University

The Incarcerated Modern is one of those exceptionally rare, original books that transcends academic disciplines and opens up myriad terrains of inquiry. Golnar Nikpour powerfully and convincingly illustrates how the modern prison is global in scope—linked to colonial histories, nation-states, and global politics.”

—Shahla Talebi, Arizona State University

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