Honor as Social Power and Factions as Networks: Understanding the Iranian Political Elite

Tony Rivera, NDU (International Security Affairs)
Iranian strategic decision-making remains largely misunderstood by the West. The system in place does make the Supreme Leader the ultimate decision-maker, and it does give the president constitutional authority, and, as in any system, there are multiple institutional prerogatives that drive decision-making as well. However, in Iran it is the informal institutions that drive decision-making and it is the factional competition that determines the structure of the decision-making system. Factions compete for power and position and it is this factional competition that enables and constrains policy choices. Further, the main mechanism used to advance factional competition is honoring and humiliating opponents. This paper examines the role of honor as social power in the factional competition, conceptualized and operationalized as social networks, that shapes Iran’s strategic policy preference formation. I do so by tracking the rise and fall of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from grace using network analysis and honor as social power. To date, no one has attempted a thorough network analysis of the factions that make up the Iranian political elite. Further, the role of honor, a social construct, recently gaining renewed importance in the IR literature, has yet to be operationalized in a way that is compatible with either analytical or computational methods. This paper gives the background of the political elite, charts the factions that comprise that elite, conceptualizes honor as social power, and then uses a social network analysis method to demonstrate the salience of honor in the factional competition that shapes the foreign and security policy of Iran.
September, 15 2014 | 12:30 - 14:00 | 230E Gross Hall

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