In July 2010, Catherine Sameh was hired as Associate Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women. She was responsible for the Center's media productions, including the well-respected webjournal Scholar & Feminist Online. She was also in charge of transnational collaborations with peer centers globally. Catherine's work at the Barnard Center for Research on Women drawed on her expertise on transnational feminism developed in her dissertation. In May 2014, Catherine accepted a tenure-track position in the Gender & Sexuality Studies Department at UC Irvine.
My dissertation explores how Iranian feminists are mobilizing new discourses and creating dynamic transnational networks, enabled in part by cyber and print cultures. I investigate the ways in which Iranian feminist praxis consequently disrupts and reframes the putative opposition between secularism and Islam, and the multiple binaries assembled through this opposition—democratic versus authoritarian; liberatory versus oppressive; egalitarian versus patriarchal; and modern versus backwards. Within a multimethodological and interdisciplinary framework, I examine three sites of Iranian feminist activism. I consider the One Million Signatures Campaign, a grassroots feminist movement that emerged in Iran in 2006, which utilizes Islamic human rights discourses and grassroots, democratic practices to engage the state in reforming family law. I also investigate the transnational network structure of the campaign, reflecting on the particular praxis offered by campaigners in the Iranian diaspora. Finally, I examine the writings and reception of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. As a Muslim, feminist and human rights activist, Ebadi emphasizes the compatibility of Islam with human rights, thereby disrupting discourses that counterpoise them. Considered together, these three sites of Iranian feminism destabilize Western hegemony over Iran, consolidated through discourses which pit “superior” liberal democracies over “backward” Islamic nations. This oppositional staging gains purchase through geopolitical relations of power, including some iterations of global feminism, which deploy neocolonial saving and rescue narratives in the name of women’s human rights. Concomitantly, transnational feminist theory, which has destabilized the normative authority of Western hegemony and global feminism, can also often reify the very power relations it seeks to critique. By emphasizing the dangers, limits, and dilemmas of transnational feminist work, transnational feminist theory can neglect critical feminist projects on the ground, effectively writing some women out of history. My dissertation considers how Iranian feminists in Iran and the diaspora challenge these various modes of epistemic silencing. Through a close examination of the praxis of Iranian feminists, reflected primarily through the narratives of the activists themselves, my dissertation contributes to feminist theories of agency and helps revitalize transnational feminist studies.