Lois Beck

​Professor Emerita of Sociocultural Anthropology
PhD, University of Chicago
research interests:
  • Political Anthropology
  • History
  • Tribe-State Relations
  • Nomadic Pastoralism
  • Islam
  • Gende
  • Iran
  • The Middle East
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    • Tuesday & Thursday 4:00 - 5:00 PM
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1114
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Beck conducts anthropological field research among Qashqa'i nomadic pastoralists in Iran.

    Beck combines the results of this research with her ongoing historical study of the Qashqa'i tribal confederacy as it emerged and has changed during the past two centuries. In addition to using archival sources, she especially relies on her collection of oral histories from Qashqa'i people in Iran and in exile in Europe and the United States. As part of her research in Europe in the past seven summers, she has interviewed members of the Qashqa'i tribal elite in exile. They discuss Qashqa'i history and especially the participation of these elite in the rapidly changing political climate in Iran. In 1995, 1996, and 1997 she continued her research in Iran among Qashqa'i nomadic pastoralists in their winter and summer pastures. She is currently revising a previously published book on Qashqa'i history and is writing several new books, one on tribal politics and another on the strategies of nomads in the postrevolutionary period. Partly because only several Americans have been allowed to conduct research in Iran since the revolution in 1979, she also writes about changes in Iranian society in general, particularly the rural sector and the role of women in the Islamic Republic.

    The research foci of students whom she assists include: Islam and politics, ecological adaptations among nomads and settlers in eastern Iran, and the implications of the introduction of formal education for Qashqa'i nomads. The graduate student who recently conducted research in Iran on formal education was funded by research grants from NSF, the Social Science Research Council, and Sigma Xi.

    Beck is also part of the Center for the Study Islamic Societies and Civilizations, a diverse group of people in many disciplines.

    Her courses include political anthropology, social change, Islam and politics, peoples and cultures of the Middle East, ethnicity and religion in the Muslim world, and the anthropology of gender. In her favorite course, writing culture, students do short-term ethnographic research projects in St. Louis and experiment with different ways of writing about their observations.

    Selected Publications

    Beck, Lois and Guity Nashat, eds.

    2004 Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Beck, Lois

    2000 Local Histories: A Longitudinal Study of a Qashqa'i Subtribe in Iran. In Iran and Beyond: Essays in Middle Eastern History in Honor of Nikki R. Keddie, Rudi Matthee and Beth Baron, eds. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers. Pp. 262-288.

    1998 Use of Land by Nomadic Pastoralists in Iran, 1970-1998. In Bulletin of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies 103: 58-80.

    1993 Rostam: Qashqa'i Rebel. In Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East. Edmund Burke, ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    1991 Nomad: A Year in the Life of a Qashqa'i Tribesman in Iran. Berkeley: University of California Press; London: I. B. Tauris.

    1990 Tribes and the State in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Iran. In Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East. Philip Khoury and J. Kostiner, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    1986 The Qashqa'i of Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Beck, Lois and Nikki Keddie, eds.

    1978 Women in the Muslim World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Nomads in Postrevolutionary Iran: The Qashqa'i in an Era of Change

    Nomads in Postrevolutionary Iran: The Qashqa'i in an Era of Change

    Examining the rapid transition in Iran from a modernizing, westernizing, secularizing monarchy (1941-79) to a hard-line, conservative, clergy-run Islamic republic (1979-), this book focuses on the ways this process has impacted the Qashqa’i―a rural, nomadic, tribally organized, Turkish-speaking, ethnic minority of a million and a half people who are dispersed across the southern Zagros Mountains.


    Analysing the relationship between the tribal polity and each of the two regimes, the book goes on to explain the resilience of the people’s tribal organizations, kinship networks, and politicized ethnolinguistic identities to demonstrate how these structures and ideologies offered the Qashqa’i a way to confront the pressures emanating from the two central governments.


    Existing scholarly works on politics in Iran rarely consider Iranian society outside the capital of Tehran and beyond the reach of the details of national politics. Local-level studies on Iran―accounts of the ways people actually lived―are now rare, especially after the revolution. Based on long-term anthropological research, Nomads in Postrevolutionary Iran provides a unique insight into how national-level issues relate to the local level and will be of interest to scholars and researchers in Anthropology, Iranian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.