In This Review

A Social Revolution: Politics and the Welfare State in Iran
A Social Revolution: Politics and the Welfare State in Iran
By Kevan Harris
Kevan Harris, 2017, 336 pp

This empirically rich study draws on Harris’ extensive fieldwork in Iran and uses welfare policy as a prism through which to view the country’s transition from the shah’s dictatorship to the now nearly 40-year-old theocracy of the Islamic Republic. He debunks the notion that social welfare in a rentier economy such as Iran’s, which depends on petroleum revenues, is part of an authoritarian bargain in which citizens offer docility in exchange for benefits. Instead, welfare policies have mobilized whole sectors of Iranian society, fostered political agency for new groups (including women), and driven political elites in directions they may not have foreseen. Harris asserts that in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, Iranian conservatives and reformers alike developed a commitment to a technocratic “developmental state” on the model of South Korea or Taiwan, in which public authorities interfere in markets and promote favored industries and sectors. This consensus has led to the extension of social programs such as welfare and subsidies for fuel and university tuition to educated middle-class Iranians, who have come to see access to such benefits as a right. If Harris is correct, the Islamic Republic contains the seeds of its own transformation.