Afsaneh Najmabadi: Familial Undercurrents

/ University of Toronto Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian Studies & York University Department of History


Afsaneh Najmabadi


October 21, 2022

Dr. Afsaneh Najmabadi is the Francis Lee Higginson Professor Emeritus of History and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University.

In Familial Undercurrents, Najmabadi uncovers her family’s complex experiences of polygamous marriage to tell a larger story of the transformations of notions of love, marriage, and family life in mid-twentieth-century Iran. She traces how the idea of “marrying for love” and the desire for companionate, monogamous marriage acquired dominance in Tehran’s emerging urban middle class. Considering the role played in that process by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century romance novels, reformist newspapers, plays, and other literature, Najmabadi outlines the rituals and objects—such as wedding outfits, letter writing, and family portraits—that came to characterize the ideal companionate marriage. She reveals how in the course of one generation, men’s polygamy had evolved from an acceptable open practice to a taboo best-kept secret. At the same time, she chronicles the urban transformations of Tehran and how its architecture and neighbourhood social networks both influenced and became emblematic of the myriad forms of modern Iranian family life.