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AAC : States, institutions and societies in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Pakistan since the 1970s

From the 1970s to the 1990s, revolutions, military coups, national independences, armed conflicts, and civil wars generated significant institutional transformations of the state in Iran, Central and South Asia[1]. These political transformations challenged the legitimacy of the state because of its centralism, authoritarianism, and elitism. But it also called into question unequal public policies and disproportionate control by upper classes. Rising contestations from the middle[2] and lower[3] social strata were supported by varied ideological stances, such as anti-imperialism, socialism, nationalism, or Islamism. State-society relations have been permanently transformed by the promotion of change in public policies and by the reshaping of extant social categories within the state apparatus. These multi-faith and multi-ethnic movements[4] also present transnational features e.g., the Taliban government in Afghanistan (1996-2001), students from madrasas of Panjwai and Deoband in Pakistan and India. As a consequence, identities are defined along blurred boundaries, as exemplified by the Pandshiris in the Afghan security organ after 2001, by the Punjabis in the Pakistani administration or by elites from the Khatlon region after the Tajik civil war (1992-1997).


The promotion of more inclusive arrangements between states and societies was soon to be overshadowed by authoritarian recentralisation policies. The institutionalisation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the second half of the 1980s, but also the Zia ul-Haq’s authoritarian counter-revolution in Pakistan (1978-88) and post-1992 political developments in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are examples amongst others of these reactionary phenomena, sometimes qualify as ‘Thermidorian’.[5]Oligarchic elites in political, bureaucratic, economic, and security fields thereby reinvest the state and privatise it[6]. Despite attempts of recentralization, contested Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani and Central Asian states have sought to ensure their stability by shaping state-society relations : through co-opting groups defined by class or regional features into civilian and military bureaucracies (the regional anchorage of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps), development policies (education, health, transport, housing, employment, agrarian policies), religious control (growth of the waqf administration under Bhutto and Zia in Pakistan,[7] Uzbekistan’s 1993 law on madrasas), and militias (Iran-backed Fatemiyun militia in Afghanistan). In turn, these groups have sought to invest the political apparatus by embedding themselves into clientelist networks and civilian-military bureaucracies.


            Despite opportunities to undertake comparative analyses of state transformations and circulations of political movements and ideas (political Islam, sovietism), Iranian, Central Asian, and South Asian Muslim worlds are usually studied from national or local perspectives only. The state thereby takes the form of a “monolithic ‘organ’”,[8] distinct from social forces and historical perspective. Poor cross-regional comparisons follow scholarly compartmentalisations between studies of South Asia, the Arab Middle East, and the post-Soviet area. Despite researchers’ growing difficulty of accessing sources in the field, historians, political scientists and anthropologists have since the 1980s re-investigated Central and South Asian states by exploring religious phenomena (O. Roy, S. Dudoignon), nationalisms (A. Anderson, C. Jaffrelot, G. Dorronsoro, M. Laruelle), regionalisms and minority groups (A. Monsutti, F. Adelkhah, T. Barfield, J-P. Digard), and the business sector (L. Gayer, A. Keshavarzian). Since the 2010s, a revival of the study of the state seems underway, via key public policy approaches (M. Ghiabi, K. Harris), socio-history of civil administrations (E. Lob, A. Baczko, S. Hull, S. M. Ali), the military (A. Siddiqa), and security (A. Giustozzi & M. Isaqzadeh) apparatuses in historical perspective.


Organised by the Centre d’histoire du XIXe siècle (CRHXIX, Sorbonne University) and the Centre de recherches internationales (CERI, Sciences-Po), the graduate conference aims to rethink relations between states and societies in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia since the 1970s. The organisers welcome papers in various disciplines (political sociology, religious and political history, anthropology, public policy), as well as monographic or comparative approaches (inter- or intra-state comparisons, historical comparisons). Particular attention will be paid to proposals emphasizing transnational trajectories and circulations of political phenomena and groups, and their relationship to the state. A reflexive consideration on the empirical material (e.g., oral history, interviews, archived web, social networks, local archives) is highly welcomed.


Papers should fit into one or more of the three proposed axes:


  • Axis 1: History of state institutions and public policies in times of political transformations
  • Axis 2: Sociology of state elites
  • Axis 3: Networks and circulations of religious and military movements


Call for papers


Doctoral students and researchers are invited to submit a proposal for an article (abstract) of a maximum length of 5,000 characters (excluding bibliographic note), by 15 July 2023, in word or pdf format. Proposals can be both in French and English and must be sent to the following addresses: and


Organisation and hosting arrangements


The graduate conference will be organised in Sorbonne University in Paris in mid-November. The exact date will be communicated promptly.


In order to enhance foreign participations, financial support may be granted to cover travel expenses, according on available funding. Participants are however encouraged to apply for financial support from their research centres, doctoral school or university.


Organising committee


Guillaume Beaud (CERI, Sciences Po) is a doctoral student in political science at Sciences Po (CERI). His dissertation focuses on the transformations of state apparatuses and administrative elites in a comparative and historical perspective. Using interviews, ethnography, archives, civil servants’ memoirs, and an analysis of prospographic data, he studies the recompositions of civil services in periods of political change in Iran and Pakistan, with a particular interest in the prefect and diplomatic corps. He graduated from King's College London, Sciences Po, and INALCO, and has studied Persian at the International Center for Persian Studies (Dehkhoda) in Tehran, as well as Urdu. He has been a visiting doctoral student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the European University Institute in Florence (EUI).


Sophia Mahroug (CRHXIX, Sorbonne-Université/ C²DH, University of Luxembourg) a Persian and Arabic-speaker PhD candidate in contemporary history at Sorbonne University (CRHXIX) and the University of Luxembourg (C²DH). She aims at analyzing the cultural policy of the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1979-2021) from web archives and digital social networks. Her research aims to reformulate a political history of Iran in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from natively digital sources and an epistemological reflection based on digital humanities in the contemporary Middle East. She graduated from Sorbonne University and INALCO, and did a language stay at the International Center for Persian Studies (Dehkhoda) in Tehran.



[1] Iranian revolution (1979), military coups in Pakistan (1977) and Afghanistan (1978), newly independent Central Asian Republics (1991), armed conflicts (Iran, 1980-1988; Afghanistan, 1979-1989), and civil wars (Tajikistan, 1992-1997; Afghanistan 1992-1996, and since the mid-2000s).

[2] About the politicization of educated middle classes and their opposition to central states, see James Bill, The Politics of Iran. Groups, Classes and Modernization. Merrill, Columbus, 1972 ; Gilles Dorronsoro, La révolution afghane. Paris, Karthala, 2000, pp. 75-106. For a sociology of Islamist movements’ contestation against the state, see Guilain Denoeux, “The forgotten swamp. Navigating Political Islam”, Middle East Policy, vol. 9 (2), p. 56-81, 2002.

[3] A salient example could be the broad group of the « deprived » (mostaz‘afin) in postrevolutionary Iran, that the Islamic Republic claims to represent.

[4] See anthropological and sociological works of Stéphane A. Dudoignon, The Baluch, Sunnism and the state in Iran: from tribal to global (2017); Jean-Pierre Digard (dir.), Le fait ethnique en Iran et en Afghanistan (1988); Thomas J. Barfield, The Central Asian Arab of Afghanistan (1981)

[5] On Thermidorian arrangements, see Bailey Stone, “Thermidor?”, dans The Anatomy of Revolution Revisited: A Comparative Analysis of England, France, and Russia. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 394-473. For its application on the Iranian case, see Jean-François Bayart, « Le concept de situation thermidorienne : régimes néo-révolutionnaires et libéralisation économique » dans Questions de recherche, n° 24, 2008, pp. 52-57.

[6] See Béatrice Hibou (Ed.), Privatizing the State, New York, Columbia, 2004

[7] Jamal Malik, “Islamic endowments”, in Colonization of Islam: Dissolution of traditional institutions in Pakistan. New Dehli, Manohar, 1996, pp. 55-84. On the capture of the religious phenomenon by the state in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, see respectively Malika Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt: The Ulema of al-Azhar, Radical Islam, and the State (1952-94)”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol.31(3), 1999, pp. 371-399; Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, “Turkey’s Diyanet under AKP rule: from protector to imposer of state ideology?”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, vol.16 (4), 2016, pp. 619-635 ; Nabil Mouline, « Routinisation et institutionnalisation du hanbalo-wahhâbisme », dans Les clercs de l’Islam, Autorité religieuse et pouvoir politique en Arabie Saoudite (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles). Paris, PUF, 2011, pp. 126-156 ; Olivier Roy, L’Échec de l’Islam politique. Paris, Seuil, 1992.

[8] Hamid Bozarslan, Sociologie politique du Moyen-Orient, Repères, La Découverte, Paris, 2011, p. 41.