Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Sara L. Crawley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Benford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Vrushali Patil, Ph.D.


Women, Advocacy, Intersectionality, Class Subjectivity, Afghan Immigrants


Scholarship on intersectionality has alerted feminist scholars to the impracticality of plans, policies and programs that are oblivious to the variations of women’s struggles along the lines of their class, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, religion and other systems of stratification. Through ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews, this dissertation critically examines the advocacy practices of a feminist nongovernmental organization in Tehran that attempts to empower marginalized Iranian and Afghan refugee women. The problematic of this institutional ethnography is the implementational challenges of a feminist women’s empowerment initiative in the postcolonial and authoritarian context of Iran where distinct systems of meaning and material realities govern choice and action.

Through an examination of the conditions of subalternity in Iran, I show that the advocated Western liberal and secular sexual and gender education of the program did not translate into an effective cultural toolkit with which the clients could exert influence within their immediate environments and communities. Instead, many of the clients expressed feelings of alienation and resisted feminist consciousness-raising practices that did not problematize issues salient to clients such as class and ethnic inequality. Pointing to the often-ignored class dimension of empowerment programs, I also demonstrate the growing class tension within the organizational setting, shaped by conflicting working-class and middle-class discourses of privilege and justice. The class subjectivities of my informants, in fact, revealed a great deal about the everyday conflicts at the organization and the reason behind clients’ growing complaints. Marginalized clients demonstrated a strong class consciousness, one that was formed in opposition to staff’s classless feminism. Lastly, I argue that the social construction of clients in terms of Bare Life had necessitated taking measures of advocacy which could allow for their transition into Proper Life. I also argue that in the absence of political opportunities for the emergence of protest movements and rights advocacy, new forms of organizing and mobilization for change emerge. By demonstrating the organization’s utilization of the rhetoric of capabilities rather than rights, I coin and use the term innominate identity politics to reveal a creative utilization of frames and resources for identity-based advocacy in an authoritarian context where rights advocacy is repressed and group identity formation is perceived as threatening to the establishment and repressed by the government. Identities, hence, are innominate yet fought for. This dissertation concludes by arguing for a contextual analysis of empowerment initiatives by bringing into light the importance of considering local cultural, political, and economic intricacies as well as the role of global discourses in complicating the implementation of women’s empowerment programs in postcolonial and authoritarian contexts.

Available for download on Wednesday, August 01, 2018