Pardis Mahdavi

Critically Acclaimed Memoirist
Public Health Researcher & Social Scientist
Travels from: Missoula, MT

This Goes Out to the Underground floored me. The whiplash narrative turns would grace a novel; the compilation of astonishing facts about the realities being endured in our midst will spur astonishment and outrage; the lucid, compassionate prose is a gift.”―Jonathan Lethem

Pardis Mahdavi, PhD is the incoming Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Montana. She is also currently the Dean of Social Sciences and Director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Prior to joining ASU, Mahdavi was Acting Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Previously she was an associate professor and chair of anthropology, director of the Pacific Basin Institute, and dean of women at Pomona College. Her research interests include gendered labor, human trafficking, migration, sexuality, human rights, transnational feminism and public health in the context of changing global and political structures. She has published five books and edited one volume, in addition to numerous journal and news articles. Her first book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution was published with Stanford University Press in 2008, and her second book, Gridlock: Labor, Migration and Human Trafficking in Dubai, also Stanford University Press, was published in 2011. Mahdavi’s third book, entitled From Trafficking to Terror: Constructing a Global Social Problem was published by Routledge on October 1, 2013, and her fourth book, Crossing the Gulf: Love and Family in Migrant Lives also Stanford University Press was published in April 2016. Her most recent book, Hyphen, was published by Bloomsbury Press in June of 2021.

She has been a fellow at the Social Sciences Research Council, the American Council on Learned Societies, Google Ideas, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Drug Research Institute, the American Public Health Association, and the Society for Applied Anthropology. Pardis was chosen as a Young Global Leader by the Asia Society and has consulted for a wide array of organizations including the U.S. government, Google Inc., and the United Nations. In 2012, she won the Wig Award for teaching at Pomona College. In 2018, she was appointed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and re-appointed by Governor Jared Polis to serve on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Prepare an Invitation for:

Hyphen (Object Lessons)

Bloomsbury Academic |
Nonfiction
Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate has been a central point of controversy since before the imprinting of the first Gutenberg Bible. And yet, the hyphen has persisted, bringing and bridging new words and concepts.

Hyphen follows the story of the hyphen from antiquity-Hyphen” is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “to tie together” -to the present, but also uncovers the politics of the hyphen and the role it plays in creating identities. The journey of this humble piece of connective punctuation reveals the quiet power of an orthographic concept to speak to the travails of hyphenated individuals all over the world. Hyphen is ultimately a compelling story about the powerful ways that language and identity intertwine.

Mahdavi-herself a hyphenated Iranian-American-weaves in her own experiences struggling to find a sense of self amidst feelings of betwixt and between. Through stories of the author and three other individuals, Hyphen collectively considers how to navigate, articulate, and empower new identities.

Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.

Crossing the Gulf: Love and Family in Migrant Lives

Stanford University Press |
Nonfiction

The lines between what constitutes migration and what constitutes human trafficking are messy at best. State policies rarely acknowledge the lived experiences of migrants, and too often the laws and policies meant to protect individuals ultimately increase the challenges faced by migrants and their kin. In some cases, the laws themselves lead to illegality or statelessness, particularly for migrant mothers and their children.

Crossing the Gulf tells the stories of the intimate lives of migrants in the Gulf cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Kuwait City. Pardis Mahdavi reveals the interconnections between migration and emotion, between family and state policy, and shows how migrants can be both mobilized and immobilized by their family relationships and the bonds of love they share across borders. The result is an absorbing and literally moving ethnography that illuminates the mutually reinforcing and constitutive forces that impact the lives of migrants and their loved ones–and how profoundly migrants are underserved by policies that more often lead to their illegality, statelessness, deportation, detention, and abuse than to their aid.

Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai

Stanford University Press |
Nonfiction

The images of human trafficking are all too often reduced to media tales of helpless young women taken by heavily accented, dark-skinned captors–but the reality is a far cry from this stereotype. In the Middle East, Dubai has been accused of being a hotbed of trafficking. Pardis Mahdavi, however, draws a more complicated and more personal picture of this city filled with migrants. Not all migrant workers are trapped, tricked, and abused. Like anyone else, they make choices to better their lives, though the risk of ending up in bad situations is high. Legislators hoping to combat human trafficking focus heavily on women and sex work, but there is real potential for abuse of both male and female migrants in a variety of areas of employment–whether on the street, in a field, at a restaurant, or at someone’s house. Gridlock explores how migrants’ actual experiences in Dubai contrast with the typical discussions–and global moral panic–about human trafficking. Mahdavi powerfully contrasts migrants’ own stories with interviews with U.S. policy makers, revealing the gaping disconnect between policies on human trafficking and the realities of forced labor and migration in the Persian Gulf. To work toward solving this global problem, we need to be honest about what trafficking is–and is not–and to finally get past the stereotypes about trafficked persons so we can really understand the challenges migrant workers are living through every day.

Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution

Stanford University Press |
Nonfiction

Investigates the emerging, new sexual culture of Iranian youth, in which sexuality represents freedom and engaging in sex can be considered political activism.

Hyphen (Object Lessons)

Migrant Encounters: Intimate Labor, the State, and Mobility Across Asia

Crossing the Gulf: Love and Family in Migrant Lives

Pardis in the News

Pardis’s Upcoming Events

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Fellow at the Social Sciences Research Council
Fellow at the American Council on Learned Societies
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Young Global Leader by the Asia Society
Wig Award for teaching at Pomona College
Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

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