The Role and Contribution of Feminist Civil Society to Women’s Empowerment: The Cases of Iranian Feminist Cinema, Press, and Publications

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the potential contribution of Iranian feminist civil society (FCS) to promotion of women’s empowerment through a lens, which seeks to critically identify the hegemonic project that is articulated in their discourse. This entails the critical analysis of how various social actors within FCS report the contribution of their work to women’s empowerment. Consequently, in order to gain a better understanding of state/civil society relations, the potential implications of the findings of the above analysis are discussed. Drawing on Gramscian perspectives on state/civil society relations and battle of hegemony, this thesis considers FCS to be a terrain of hegemonic battles whereby counterhegemonic discourses can be articulated through raising collective consciousness, challenging patriarchal hegemony, and creating multiple alternative discourses. Empirically, this thesis investigates the concepts of battle of hegemony and its contribution to transformation of power relations within the works of Iranian FCS, analyses the discourses produced by social actors within FCS, and explores how these discourses are shaped by and respond to the socio-political environment in which they are articulated. Theoretically, this thesis seeks to identify how Gramscian concepts can speak to the hegemonic projects articulated in Iranian FCS and how his perspectives can aid in understanding the relations between FCS and state in Iran. In considering such projects in terms of the production of discourses by social actors, the thesis uses Bakhtinina dialogism which can help to illuminate the inter-animation of diverse voices within both the work and perspectives of social actors. Furthermore, by extendinding Gramsci’s framework to include and adapt Laclau and Mouffe’s concept of counterhegemonic interventions, this thesis also unpacks FCS’ operational strategies within the Iranian context. The data collated for this thesis includes analysis of a document written by a religious scholar and published in a feminist journal, and six semi-structured interviews with two feminist journalists and four feminist filmmakers. The key findings of this thesis are as follows: Social actors within Iranian FCS adopt heterogeneous -and sometimes opposing- approaches in articulating and communicating their discourses. This diversity can benefit FCS operations in order to limit the possibility of articulating an alternative dominant discourse by feminist intellectuals which excludes marginalized/disadvantaged women’s voices within the discourse of FCS. Such diverse discourses also challenge the narrow and highly controlled margin of action for civil society by the state, in which pluralism and criticism is often constrained and limited. Overall, this thesis a) addresses a gap in the literature regarding the relationship between theocratic states and FCS and the potential contribution(s) of FCS to women’s empowerment in the countries with theocratic regimes; b) presents a Gramscian-Bakhtinian analytical framework that can be applied in future studies that investigate state/civil society relations and the cultural hegemonic battle for transformation of power relations, and c) explores cultural realms within FCS and theoretically and methodologically analyse their potential contribution to women’s empowerment.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSusie Miles (Supervisor) & Laura Black (Supervisor)


  • Feminist Civil Society
  • Cultural Hegemony
  • Hegemonic Battle

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