GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
“Producing entrepreneurs: knowledge economy, startups, and Politics of Innovation in Iran”
Paper Proposal Text :
Living under economic sanctions is nothing new to Iranians since the 1979 revolution. The most recent round, however, which has been described by the President Obama as the ‘toughest sanctions ever on Iran,’ implemented in 2012, has faced the Iranian state and people with more serious economic hardship. The Iranian state, in turn, has initiated several political, social, and economic measures to respond effectively to the economic sanctions imposed on the country. A significant feature of the new knowledge economy policies, or \"resistive economy\" as it is labeled by the Iranian officials, is the promotion of entrepreneurship (karafarini).

“Entrepreneurship” seems to have conquered the practices and imaginations of the state, many organizations, and NGOs in Iran in the last few years. From Entrepreneurship Bank, to diverse governmental programs, to charity empowerment schemes such as carpet-weaving, to scores of books, magazines, manuals and public seminars, to specific centers in many leading universities nationwide, to high-tech startup weekends, karafarini has become a buzzword in the social lives of many young Iranians.

Establishing entrepreneurship centers, developing adequate curriculum, and building required infrastructure in technology universities has been one the key policies of the Iranian state in gearing higher education towards establishment of its desired knowledge economy. But what does it mean to promote entrepreneurship under severe international governance of economic sanction in a country with one of allegedly least rate of incorporation in neoliberalism? How are policies regarding entrepreneurship defined by the state officials, and implemented at entrepreneurship programs in technology universities? How do Iranian engineering students aspire and learn to think like, and eventually become, entrepreneurs? How are startups promoted and organized as sites and mediums of fostering entrepreneurs?

My on-going anthropological doctoral project investigates different cultures of entrepreneurship in post-revolutionary Iran, focusing on how different conceptions of entrepreneurship are conceived, promoted, experienced, and contested in post-revolutionary Iran. Based on eight months of fieldwork in state offices and Entrepreneurship Center and High-Tech Incubator at Sharif University (the leading science and technology university in Iran), and over thirty-five interviews with state officials, faculties, and students, I map out the multi-layered, sometimes contradictory, often bizarre, but relentlessly vibrant landscape of entrepreneurship in Iran.