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Iran's Islamic Revolution: Achievements and Failures
Since its inception as a field of study, sociology has been very interested in explaining
revolutions as social phenomena. Attempts at explaining revolutions have revolved around
three main questions: Why do a great number of people act collectively against a regime?
How do a large group of people mobilize themselves against the armed power of a regime,
making their social power capable of defeating it? And what has been the outcome of
revolutions? Sociological studies have focused mostly on the first two questions, with the
last question receiving scant attention. The aim of this article is to offer a tentative analysis
of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran in the light of the third question, that is, what has
been its outcome? In order to answer the question, I rely on certain presumptions in
sociology known as ‘rational choice theory.’1 According to rational choice theory, a
‘revolution’ is not considered to be a blind collective reaction to different and painful
conditions. Rather, the revolutionaries are posited as self-aware individuals who
voluntarily seek the means to change and improve their own situation and that of society. It
is mainly because of this aspiration that people follow them. Of course, the conscious acts
of revolutionaries, like all acts, can have both intended and unintended consequences.
There are several reasons why it is important to review the results of the Islamic
Revolution at this point, a quarter of century after its occurrence. First, after going through
several phases of revolutionary violence, moderation, and even reform, the Iranian
Revolution seems to have traversed a cycle and reached a resting point or even a point of
exhaustion. This gives observers an opportunity to reflect on the dynamics that have
characterized Iran’s various post-revolutionary phases. Second, despite the many phases it
has already gone through, the Iranian Revolution is still young, meaning that most of the
main first-generation actors are still alive and are contending for power with second- or
even third-generation actors who have become increasingly ambivalent or unclear about
the outcome of the revolution. Finally, it is interesting to examine the outcome of the
revolution because this issue has become contested in Iran, with many actors, including
some who see themselves as protectors of the Islamic Revolution, dwelling on the issue
in order to figure out a way to manage society better. A clear evaluation of the revolution’s
outcome, one that avoids ideological tendencies, can help enhance the study of
revolutionary outcomes in general as well as the particular dynamics in Iran.
Note: Contact CASMII (Academic Articles) to obtain the full article.