Nahid Siamdoust

Visiting Assistant Professor, Harvard University School

Nahid Siamdoust is an anthropologist and cultural historian whose work focuses primarily on the intersection between politics and various modes of cultural production and media forms in Iran and the wider Middle East, with an acute focus on questions of cultural mediation, political power and social movements. She is the inaugural Ehsan Yarshater Postdoctoral Associate at the Yale Program in Iranian Studies at the MacMillan Center’s Council on Middle East Studies. She is also Lecturer at Yale’s Anthropology Department.

Dr. Siamdoust received her doctorate from the University of Oxford, where she graduated in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at St. Antony’s College with training in Anthropology. Her first book, Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran was published in 2017 by Stanford University Press. Researched in Iran over a period of five years, Soundtrack of the Revolution broke new ground by demonstrating the minute but powerful ways in which works of cultural production can register dissent and create political alignments within an authoritarian political sphere, but also of power’s productive abilities to shape forces in its own image.  It does this by examining four genres of music that span a cumulative three decades, with a close reading within those genres of the works of four musicians but also a discussion of other artists and the wider field, from producers and state officials to record label owners and concert attendees. This methodology allows for a fine-tuned ethnographic rendering of the artists at the center of each genre, while advancing chronologically through post-revolutionary Iran and connecting different but continuous strands of inquiry to paint a larger picture of the sociological and political processes at work in the Islamic Republic. The principal inquiry is about the discursive spaces that the musicians at the center of the book’s discussion create. Another is about the jurisprudential bases, political debates, and pragmatic considerations that feed into social and cultural policymaking. Other prominent queries that weave through the text and engage the relevant literatures are about the evolution and impact of media technologies, the notion of a public and an alternative public sphere, generational continuities and ruptures, performativity of identities, notions of artistic “authenticity,” impact of transnational and global currents on internal productions and discussions, gender dynamics and the marginalization of the female voice, and the politics of grief. By centering a discussion of media and its importance in 20th century Iranian politics, Soundtrack of the Revolution contributes to a nascent literature that has been afoot over the last decade or so to claim popular culture and media as serious sites of analysis across the Middle East.

Soundtrack of the Revolution was based on Dr. Siamdoust’s doctoral dissertation, which won both the Middle East Studies Association’s Malcolm H. Kerr dissertation prize and the Douglas Leigh Memorial prize from the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) for best dissertation in Middle Eastern Studies.

Dr. Siamdoust’s second book project is tentatively titled “Joy Against the Odds: Affective & Mediated Counterpublics in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and traces the histories and constitutionalities of various counterpublics following the 1979 revolution, and investigates the centrality of performances of joy within these publics.

Dr. Siamdoust holds a B.A. in Political Science and Art History, and a Master of International Affairs – from Barnard College and Columbia University, respectively. Before returning to academia and concurrently with her studies, she worked as a fulltime Iran and Middle East based journalist for TIME MagazineDer Spiegel, The Los Angeles Times and Al Jazeera English TV, and worked in documentary and feature filmmaking. She has taught at Oxford University and NYU Steinhardt’s Media, Culture and Communication Department.

At Yale she teaches an interdisciplinary course titled “The Politics of Culture in Iran,” which examines the intersection of politics and culture in the fields of music, cinema, and newspaper journalism, and an Anthropology course titled “Society and Politics of the Middle East,” with readings across cultures and an emphasis on ethnography.