Making Modern Self Through White Marriage: Living Together Without Marriage in Tehran, Iran

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Golestaneh, Mehrnaz




This dissertation uses the phenomenon of "white marriage" among young heterosexual middle class Iranian women and men, who choose to live together without religious and legal documentation, as the focus to provide a window into the transformation of intimacy in contemporary Iran within a globalized world. In addition to explaining theoretical approach and methodology, throughout the first couple of chapters, I contextualize white marriage as in deeper socio-historical layers in relation to freedom of choice. Based on interviews with individuals in white marriages as well as analyses of textual data, this dissertation examines how Iranian middle class women and men in white marriages understand this mode of intimate relationship within the context of Iran's marriage norms and the global dominance of western culture. By investigating the categorization of white marriage, and conceptualizations of commitment, fertility and relationships with extended family, this dissertation offers an account of the different motivations and desires bound up in the making of the modern self through white marriage. I argue that white marriage signifies that sexuality, gender and class are emerging as fault lines in contemporary Iranian society, with notions of intimacy, love, body and self-being constructed by Iranian middle class women and men in reaction to western culture and to marital norms in Iran. Iranians in white marriages formulate their desires and construct their subculture in relation to global cultural forces on the one hand and articulate their understanding of cultural marital norms in Iran on the other. However, media discussions about white marriage, reflected in textual data, demonstrated different understandings of the phenomenon. I have identified three phases in media discussions related to white marriage: the first is silence and denial; the second is a prohibitive approach with religious and moralistic approach and the third is a management approach concerned with health and population. Thus, a diverse set of organized interests come into play to settle the phenomenon of white marriage in a variety of ways.  


Individual and Family Studies
Middle Eastern History




Carleton University

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