UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Spotlight on Dr Fatemeh Sadeghi

24 July 2023

Meet Dr Fatemeh Sadeghi, Research Associate and academic facilitator at TAKHAYYUL, an ERC-funded project at the Institute for Global Prosperity. Here, Fatemeh tells us about her current projects, what is coming up, and what prosperity means to her.

Fatemeh Sadeghi headshot
Thinking about prosperity globally gives us a tool to reconsider how our world is run.

Could you tell us a bit about your background? 

I completed my PhD in political thought at Tarbiat Modarres University in Tehran. In our generation we grew up in an atmosphere filled with what was called “Islamic ethics”, akhlaq-e eslami with certain implications for women. I was curious about the historical roots of Islamic ethics. Therefore, for my PhD dissertation I studied early Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence and the ways in which they formed the foundations of gendered ethics. After finishing my PhD in 2004, I focused more on modern political discourses particularly nationalism and Islamism. Between 2002 and 2008 I taught political thought, political sociology, gender, and feminism at Iranian universities including the Islamic Azad University of Karaj and Tehran University. In the meantime, I was also partially involved in women’s movements' campaigns against gender discrimination and inequality. My position has been affected by the political situation in Iran particularly after 2009 and the eruption of the Green Movement. Therefore, since 2010, I have worked mainly as an independent researcher, lecturer, and translator. Before joining UCL, I also spent two years (2018-2020) at McGill university studying and teaching on feminist constitutionalism and constitutional thought in Iran

Could you tell us about one of the current projects you are working on with TAKHAYYUL and what you have coming up?

Let me briefly explain my understanding of the project before delving into my work. Although it is an Arabic word for imagination, it is also widely used in Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Urdu, Pashtu, etc. In this project takhayyul is a heuristic concept given its significance in politics and social change. In common understanding politics consists of party politics, elections, social movements, unions, etc. But it also includes how people imagine the past, present, and future. Therefore, we have capitalist imagination, Islamist imagination, and socialist imagination. I am interested in the ways in which political aspirations, fantasies, and promises are framed, followed, declined, or replaced by other fantasies. This aspect of politics is important, but it has rarely been studied. Only recently have scholars started to explore the imaginary aspect of politics and its role in collective actions. This is because the imagination has a very strong mobilization capacity.

My current research is on contemporary Iran, where a substantial and pervasive shift in political subjectivity is taking place as a result of the massive disappointment of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and its consequences. Iranian politics is affected by this shift as we witnessed in recent uprisings. This shift is manifest in all aspects of life including social relations, religiosity, personal life, gender identity, and even people’s attitudes towards animals and the environment. I am currently working on my book about how this shift is lived and experienced.

Please tell us about your recent fieldwork.

In my fieldwork I employed a combination of anthropological and historical methodologies. Most of the research material was collected through long-term participant observation and engagement in intellectual and academic debates about Iran. These are some of the questions I had in mind for my fieldwork and tried to answer: How do people experience and explain this situation? What are the most visible symptoms of this imaginary shift? What are the responses of the governing apparatus and how does it hinder, deviate, and redefine redemptive aspirations? How do people react to these processes?

What does prosperity mean to you?

IGP's vision is interesting and inspiring. Because it reworks our relationship with the planet and changes the way we imagine and run our societies. Another key issue is that prosperity is deeply related to sustainability, justice and equality, fairness, and a long-term vision of humanity's place in the world. In this approach prosperity is viewed globally. I believe this idea is absolutely important, because it makes us think about the situation of an extremely unequal world where the gap between the global North and South is widening. In societies such as Iran, where the economy is collapsing because of corruption, mismanagement, and international sanctions against the country, prosperity has become unthinkable. Thinking about prosperity globally gives us a tool to reconsider how our world is run.

Since joining IGP I have thought about the most appropriate synonym for prosperity in our language world. I think this is significant because some words carry history. Initially I thought tana’um (تنعّم) would be a proper synonym, but it implies fortune. Then I came across a phrase that is mostly forgotten today, but it was a master signifier for all classical thinkers. That word is sa’adah (سعاده), which is an Arabic translation of the Greek eudaimonia. I think sa'adah is the most appropriate synonym for prosperity, because it includes material happiness, but also mental and spiritual ones. This concept reminds us that prosperity was once the goal of life. That made me wonder where has sa'adah withered away? Why is it lost? How can we put it back into our imagination?  

What professional achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I've been fortunate to be part of IGP and the TAKHAYYUL project. It has been a deeply enriching experience. This atmosphere has been cultivated by the collaboration and unwavering support of my colleagues, which has nurtured my intellectual and personal growth. The TAKHAYYUL project, in particular, has enriched my understanding of the Muslim world and has had a deep impact on my personal and academic life. TAKHAYYUL is not just a research project; it is a network of pioneering scholars who revise stereotypes.

Who is influential to you and why?

I am partially influenced by the generation of German intellectuals between the two wars. This is because of the similarity between their situation and ours and their ability to analyze it on its own terms. In particular, I am interested in Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Ernst Bloch.

I also want to mention a Muslim thinker and historian called Mohammad ibn Jarir Tabari (d. 923). Tabari was a historian whose narratives are still relevant for accuracy and detail. Tabari tries to be as broad and inclusive as possible, often including multiple, conflicting reports of the same occurrence. His narrative is of the utmost importance for feminist history as an alternative approach to male-oriented historiography.

Do you have a recent book, film or podcast that you would recommend?

The latest TAKHAYYUL podcast is on Iran’s uprising and its international impact. There we discuss the roots of the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement and how it is received in Turkey, China, India, and Pakistan.  

Where is your favourite place?

It might seem ridiculous, but I have always wished to visit Cairo and so far, I have not been able. For me, Cairo is an imagined geography I have a special connection to. It would be great to visit Cairo one day and compare my imagination of that city with reality.