Genealogy as a Method for Analyzing "City Role" Developments (Case Study: Mashhad)

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor of Geography and Urban Planning, Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, Ahvaz, Iran

2 Professor of Geography and Regional Planning, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran

3 PhD in Geography and Urban Planning, Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, Ahvaz, Iran


Different approaches have been proposed by planners and theorists to analyze the role of cities. From the point of view of structuralism and theories such as political economy, urban systems are often considered a changing system. In a genealogical approach to urban role analysis, theorists such as Foucault analyze the urban space in the domain of power and knowledge, which ultimately leads to the formation of the social space of the city, changing and transforming its dominant role over time.
The study area of the present article is Mashhad, home to 63% of the urban population in Khorasan Razavi Province and the largest city in the province (Mashhad Municipality, 2016). Given the special cultural and religious status of the city at a national and regional level, the need for a closer examination of the areas of urban role and function will make it possible to exploit the existing potentials of the city in the direction of rational future development of the city. An analysis of the power structures and knowledge of Mashhad's current space along with interpretation of how this space is formed in the geographical area can reveal the imbalances at local and regional levels. On the other hand, understanding all the potentials in space can lead to the design of a new paradigm of urban space management in Mashhad.
This article aims at defining and designing a method to analyze the current role and function of cities based on Foucault's "genealogy", for which purpose it has studied the role of the city of Mashhad. The genealogy of Mashhad’s role seeks to answer the following questions: What role or dominant role does the city have now in geographical space, regardless of its initial formation and role in its emergence? How have these roles evolved over time and what has been the origin of their discourse? And finally, what is the power and capacity of the city to diversify into new roles?
Genealogy-based research rests on the foundations of heuristic theory; the essence of genealogical method is to work with old and outdated documents since genealogy has a history of returning to the past, and its historical sources and past documents. Of course, where there is no document, field methods such as interviews and historical memory are also used. Methods of information analysis in this type of research include;

Genealogical analysis: analyzing the ancestry of past and present roles of the city, by examining discourse zones, historical breakpoints, and analyzing the effects of the discourse on urban space and the relations of power and knowledge shaping the role of the city
Content analysis: analysis of national, regional, and local (city) development documents as well as related scientific research

Results and Discussion
The network of power relations, explaining the political economy of the city, illustrates how urban space is created and developed. An examination of the current roles of Mashhad shows that the city, due to its special position in the structure of Iranian urban system and accepting its political-managerial role, has become a top economic hub as well as a superior service hub, being assisted by institutions at national and international levels. Meanwhile, existing management structures play their political, economic, and service roles and functions. Beyond its dominant political and managerial role in Iran's geographical planning system, it also has a unique role as a pilgrimage and tourism destination, and this role has been the vision of Mashhad's development from the past (at the time of its creation) to date. Mashhad, besides the shrine of Imam Reza, is the focus of many public services (legal, health, technical, specialized, tourism, educational, scientific-cultural, etc.). The city of Mashhad, on the other hand, is a pilgrimage city. Pilgrimage to this city is an integral feature in the eyes of its visitors and residents, attracting millions of tourists annually to the city, with most tourists claiming pilgrimage as one of the most important goals of their trip. Among the roles explored in Mashhad, two are political, administrative and tourism, and pilgrimage can be considered the focal role of this city. In the shadow of these two roles, many other roles have also been expanded in Mashhad.
Analyzing the correlation between power and knowledge in shaping and defining the dominant role of pilgrimage and tourism in Mashhad and expressing the existing truth regime is possible through reviewing scientific plans and documents and projects, implemented in Mashhad. Higher frequency of fundamental and developmental researches, mainly in the form of a research project, developed by scientific and research institutions, indicates the importance of the knowledge support category of the authorities (urban and regional management) in defining the role of the city as well as the production and reproduction of Mashhad space. This interconnected network of knowledge production, in fact, guides the urban lifestyle, creating the kind of thinking that empowers people under the generated network system, who in turn generate space at different levels.
Analyzing the dominant discourse that explain the roles of Mashhad shows that the political-administrative role is in the first place, followed by tourism and pilgrimage in the second place. Today's vision of Mashhad is the result of an interconnected power structure and knowledge that can be seen in productions (scientific-technical-specialized) and guiding texts focused on the subject (extracurricular documents). The proposed strategies of these texts and the way in which they have been politicized in the documents of tradition and the patterns of cooperation between the agents of power have finally come to create the existing discourse and produce and reproduce the urban and social space, resulting from it


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Volume 53, Issue 1
April 2021
Pages 173-193
  • Receive Date: 09 June 2019
  • Revise Date: 28 December 2019
  • Accept Date: 28 December 2019
  • First Publish Date: 21 March 2021