Mahmood SHAHABI (1994 -1998, Ph.D) is an assistant professor in sociology and cultural studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Allameh Tabatabai’ University, Tehran, Iran. He obtained his Ph.D. from Sociology Department of Essex University, England in 1998. He has pioneered cultural studies in Iran and recent publications include three book chapters: Rap music and youth cultures in Iran: Serious or light? Co-authored by Golpoush-Nezhad, Elham (Brill-Den Haag and New York, (Forthcoming, 2014), and The Iranian moral panic over video: A brief history and policy analysis (Routledge, 2008), and Youth subcultures in post-revolution Iran: An alternative reading (Routledge, 2006). His research interests include cultural theory, youth cultures, media studies, gender studies, globalization, intercultural communication and diaspora.
I was so delighted when Professor Ken Plummer asked me to have an entry on the department’s 50th anniversary web site. I would like to say a little about my experience during and after my time at Essex.
For a young Ph.D. candidate who had received a full scholarship with a guaranteed future academic position at Allameh Tabatabai’ University in Tehran, getting an admission from a six star sociology department (Essex) seemed rather a dream.
I still remember the first day of my arrival in Essex on January 18th, 1994. I met the then head of Department, Professor Tony Woodiwiss who introduced me to Professor Ken Plummer who agreed to become my supervisor. I soon realized that I was privileged to be taught by Professor Ken Plummer during my five years stay at Essex. To be honest it is only in more recent years that I have come to appreciate the influence that Ken Plummer and the wider department has had on my thinking and work. For instance, although Prof. Stanley Cohen had already left the department, and I had no chance to meet him (who sadly died on January 7, 2013), his books and papers on ‘moral panics and folk devils’ inspired and guided my thesis on video and youth cultures in Iran. I was also privileged to have Professor Tony Coxon (who sadly died on February 7, 2012) and Professor Catherine Hall as members of my supervisory board.
My fieldwork was conducted in Tehran, where I administered a survey of 450 video users amongst high school students. Theoretically, I adopted a combination of the constructionist, gratificationist, subculturalist, and hybridist perspectives into my study. They were employed to explain the Iranian moral panic over video, the popular uses of video, the consequences of video use for the power relationship between youth subcultures and the mainstream culture, and the consequences of video uses and youth subcultural life for Iranian culture, respectively. From this research I gained my PhD – examined by Prof. Nigel South (my internal examiner) and Prof. Ali Mohammadi (my external examiner); and published as two book chapters: The Iranian moral panic over video: A brief history and policy analysis (Routledge, 2008), and Youth subcultures in post-revolution Iran: An alternative reading (Routledge, 2006).
My Ph.D. thesis and what I learnt at Essex made an enormous contribution to my entire subsequent career in Iran: I moved over to cultural studies. I have been teaching cultural theory since 2000 and contributed to the founding of the first Department of cultural studies in Iran, at Allameh Tabatabai’ University in Tehran. About 150 MA students have graduated from our department so far. I and my colleagues have founded many research traditions in the field of cultural studies in Iran and contributed to the emergence of the Iranian cultural studies. I myself am the first and perhaps the only Iranian academic who has applied moral panics theory to the Iranian socio-cultural context. I owe all these achievements to my Essex experiences in 1994-98.
Essex was a very friendly and welcoming department while I was there. Although there was not really a typical day in Essex for me and it was always changing, but there were some rituals which characterized my campus lifestyle: visiting the sociology common room not only for coffee, but also for checking my pigeonhole and meeting my friends; visiting the university gallery and also the second hand bookshop on campus; visiting the library, the computer lab, and finally staying at my office to work out for about 8 hours a day. I remember I and my Iranian friends (about 24 Ph.D. students in different departments), including Dr. Hossein Serajzadeh, another graduate of Essex sociology department, usually got together on Fridays and played some football on campus. I also remember we had some informal seminars on a regular basis (monthly) among ourselves to present an academic lecture followed by debate and discussion. I remember my presentation was related to the sociology of political communication in Iran. At that time I was influenced by James Scott’s book entitled ‘Dominance and the art of resistance’!
My major activities in recent years have included teaching such courses as cultural theory, intercultural communication, media sociology, youth cultures, sociology of sports; attending many International conferences in a number of European countries (Spain, Finland, Norway, England, Sweden, Poland and Turkey), supervising MA and Ph.D. dissertations; conducting some quantitative and qualitative researches for the Iranian government ministries and organizations; performing as a member of research councils in some ministries and organizations; and acting as a member of the managing board in the Iranian Association for cultural studies and communication.
Overall, I am proud to be a graduate of the Essex Sociology Department. I will do my best to attend the Department’s 50th anniversary celebration on September 9, 2014 to refresh my old but unforgettable memories at Essex. Being an Essex graduate will remain part of my identity forever.