Pardis Mahdavi

Pardis Mahdavi, PhD is currently Dean of Social Sciences and Director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University (ASU). Prior to joining ASU, she was the Acting Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Before coming to Denver, she was at Pomona College from 2006-2017 where she most recently served as professor and chair of anthropology, director of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, as well as Dean of Women. Her research interests include academic freedom, diversity and inclusion in higher education, gendered labor, human trafficking, migration, sexuality, human rights, youth culture, transnational feminism and public health in the context of changing global and political structures. She has published five single authored books and one edited volume in addition to numerous journal and news articles. She has been a fellow at the Social Sciences Research Council, the American Council on Learned Societies, Google Ideas, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

Recent Articles and Interviews

Amazon.com: Hyphen (Object Lessons) (9781501373909): Mahdavi, Pardis, Schaberg, Christopher, Bogost, Ian: Books

Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. To hyphenate or not to hyphenate has been a central point of controversy since before the imprinting of the first Gutenberg Bible. And yet, the hyphen has persisted, bringing and bridging new words and concepts. Hyphen follows the story of the hyphen from antiquity – "Hyphen” is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “to tie together” – to the present, but also uncovers the polit

The Global Women's Movements That Helped Kamala Harris Rise

As Kamala Harris readies to take the oath of office this January, she does so knowing that she will be the first woman, the first Black woman, the first Asian American woman, and the first daughter of immigrants to be elected to the White House. And while her victory stands on the shoulders of many American feminists, looking at the activism of women of color around the world, especially over the past decade, is crucial to understanding both the importance of Harris’s election and how it became

The Ms. Q&A: Activist and Artist Parastou Forouhar Is Fighting for the "Iran That Could Have Been"

Artist and activist Parastou Forouhar knows what it’s like to have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Forouhar was born and raised in Iran, but in 1991, under threat of persecution due to her family’s dissident views and her status as an artist and woman, she opted to leave Iran and immigrate to Germany, where she still lives and works. Currently she is a professor of fine arts at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and her work has been exhibited around the world. Forouhar i

From Legal Battery to Contractual Sterilization: The Politics of Women’s Incarceration in the Middle East

Not only are laws about migrant women’s bodies resulting in the mass incarceration of women in the Gulf—they are also producing a chain reaction in the form of a generation of children who are stateless. The echoes of babies’ cries reverberate off the prison walls. Black and Brown mothers scurry around the cramped space, seeking what little pockets of privacy might be available to nurse their infants. A sense of sadness and frustration hangs in the air. The Al-Awir prison is located at the out

"Nasrin": Speaking to the World From a Prison in Iran

“For the past two decades I have been researching and writing about human rights, women’s rights and feminist activism in the Middle East. I have increasingly met activists like Nasrin who pay a dear price for trying to change laws that perpetuate injustice.” On September 26, 2016, Farhang Amiri—a 63-year-old Baha’i man who was much loved in his community of Yazd, Iran—was found stabbed to death outside his home. Two brothers confessed to the murder, citing that they killed Amiri because he wa

Party on! Why some young people are more concerned about their reputations than catching coronavirus

“Are you going to Cooper’s party tonight?” asked a young female voice behind me to a friend. It wasn’t a conversation opener I had expected to hear during my grocery run, some 14 days into a crisis in which everyone is being urged to stay at home and avoid groups. But it continued along these lines: “I kind of don’t want to go,” came the reply. “I mean, with the whole social distancing thing, a kegger doesn’t seem like the thing to do right now, right?” “You have to go,” implored her friend.

Celebrating Iranian Feminism and Feminists: Nevertheless, They Persist

Last week, in honor of International Women’s Day, Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian women’s rights activist and lawyer, published a letter in Time. Sotoudeh sent the letter from Evin Prison in Tehran, where she is currently serving out her 33-year sentence for her work to promote women’s rights in Iran. While initially she was told that she would be serving a five year sentence, seven additional counts were leveled against her—landing her 27 more years in Evin, as well as 148 lashes for the crime of

How the US repeatedly failed to support reform movements in Iran

After decades of conflict, recently escalated to near-war, it appears there’s little chance that U.S. relations with Iran will ever improve. For 40 years, the relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been marked by disagreement – but also by a series of missed opportunities. Over the past two decades, a number of organic Iranian activist movements have steadily been growing stronger. If, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleges, the U.S. has been worried about the Iranian regime for the pa

Another Possible Casualty in Iran: Feminism

Iran is in the midst of powerful and lethal unrest. The past few months have seen some of the largest protests since the Iranian revolution of 1979, news of which had exploded onto the international media scene in almost unprecedented ways. Internally, the groundswell of a social movement in opposition to the regime began growing to a tsunami like tidal wave. But before this movement could begin to unseat the regime, the U.S. escalated external pressure by the killing of Iran’s most powerful mi

Essential Readings: Migration and the Gulf by Pardis Mahdavi

When looking at migration in the Middle East, it is important to address questions of how to define “migration” and “labor” and what distinguishes “forced” from “voluntary” migration and labor. Drawing on key ethnographic insights, these authors also challenge the artificial divide between “forced” and “voluntary” labor/migration that has dominated international trafficking policies and debates about gendered migration and coercive labor in Asia.

Trafficking as terror

In 2005, two young men were executed in Mashad, Iran, sealing multiple fates at once. Outside Iran, the execution was labeled an “execution of gay men because they were gay.” Inside Iran, the story was different. Neither of these two young men identified as gay, and their crime was that of raping a young boy. By mislabeling it “yet another case” of a Muslim country’s backward policies on sexuality, the violence of the rape was erased, as were the strengths of movements inside Iran rethinking sex

The Snowflake Revolution

For the past several years, social critics as well as some members of higher education communities have been quick to label students as “coddled” or part of a “snowflake” generation. This narrative has come through increasingly heated debates about the direction or value of higher education. Many — such as Greg Lukianoff or Jonathan Haidt — specifically use this terminology to bemoan the declining status of academic freedom cum rigor due to “snowflakes” who are unable to face arguments, narrativ

Is the #MeToo movement the beginning of a political revolution?

A sexual revolution is underway. Survivors of sexual assault — of which women represent 90 percent — are asserting their control over their own bodies and pushing back against gender inequality in the corporate world. The immediate results have been staggering. Stories detailing sexual abuse and harassment have become regular elements of daily news coverage, leading many perpetrators to issue public apologies and resign or lose their jobs.

How #MeToo Became a Global Movement

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet urging women to speak up and out about their experiences with sexual assault or harassment using the phrase “me too.” Overnight, social media erupted, as #MeToo took hold in every corner of the world. By the end of the day, there were similar movements in multiple languages, including Arabic, Farsi, French, Hindi, and Spanish. Today, women in 85 different countries are using the hashtag to bring attention to the violence and hara
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