Discourse and Dissent in the Diaspora: Civic and Political Lives of Iranian Americans

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link






This study examines the political agency of Iranian immigrants. Through the rhetorical device of "political talk" which encompasses politically- and civically- oriented discourse, action and ideology, this research follows political talk as it presents itself in two locations within the public sphere: in the life course of Iranian Americans, and through online discourse. Methods used included a combination of conventional ethnography (participant observation, informal interviews, life history interviews), and virtual ethnography to develop a typology of political and civic action. Life history interviews provided an understanding of the meanings informants assigned to political and civic action within the larger trajectory of their lives, especially within the context of migration experiences. Virtual ethnography involved the analysis of three different Iranian digital diaspora communities.

First, this research found that the civic and political spheres of engagement are linked, and that Iranian immigrants use organizations to learn participatory democracy. It illustrates how ethnic organizations, online and offline, act as both vehicles and activators for immigrant political participation and further civic engagement in the U.S. Additionally, this research uncovers how factors (age at migration, length of time in U.S., particular migration experience) impact notions of belonging and solidarity. It unpacks immigrant political agency to demonstrate the range of behaviors and activities which constitute political and civic participation. It contributes to understanding modes of citizenship and belonging by relating individual, historical, and situational variables in order to understand the relationship between homeland events, immigrant politicization and political behavior. Analysis of the three digital communities evidenced the multiple ways that digital diasporas can be a forum for engaging politically and in creating political community by allowing for a diversity of voices. Finally, merging conventional and virtual ethnography highlighted the dominant discourses about participation in larger society, and demonstrated the formation of a distinctly Iranian-American civil society.