Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Middle Eastern Studies


Samira Haj

Subject Categories



Futuwwa; Gender and Sexuality Studies; Iranian History; Javanmardi; Masculinity Studies; Middle East History


This paper offers a genealogy of changing conceptualizations and performances of masculinity in 19th and early to mid-20th century Iran, and examines in particular a unique group of masculine subjects known as the lutis. The first component of the analysis traces the historical lineage of these lutis, situating their emergence out of Persian Sufi brotherhoods, bandit clans ('ayyar), and guild-like organizations (futuwwa) from the period of the 15th to the 19th century CE. This section provides an account of the most pertinent and distinguishing rites, attitudes, and practices of the lutis, most notably their involvement in the tradition of Iranian wrestling (koshti pahlavani) as performed in so-called Houses of Strength (zurkhaneh). In reflecting on their specific practices, this account reveals the deep imbrication of the lutis with a particular spiritual and martial mode of masculinity; expressed as the state of being javanmard or of having javanmardi (literally, "youngmanliness"). The second component of the analysis demonstrates how, from the late-19th century, the javanmardi embodiments, social enactments and sartorial comportments of the lutis came to stand in increasing tension with new norms of manliness (mardanegi) promoted in Iranian governmental and societal discourses of modernization. The section proceeds to show how an intensification of these discourses and their accompanying policies, particularly during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911), would signify the lutis as a menacing, counter-normative and anxiety-provoking antipode to the (attempted) formation of a unifying national Iranian masculine gender identity, a new conception of manhood defined by compulsory heterosexuality, monogamous marriage, 'rational' political roles and Westernizing sartorial presentations. The significatory processes of the Qajar (1785-1925) and first Pahlavi periods (1925-1941) would gradually produce a narrative of the lutis as deviant, chaotic, violent, and sexually ambiguous subjects, a distinctly non-normative measure of manhood in the Iranian political and cultural imaginary. Employing critical and queer theoretical approaches to the historical formation of gender and sexuality, this paper thus attempts to draw out the phenomenologically lived experience of the lutis as excluded masculine subjects while also situating the development of normative conceptions of manhood and masculinity into broader histories of the critical formation of modernity in Iran.

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