Closedness and openness in Tehran; a feminist critique of Sennett

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This paper uses a feminist approach to geography to critique the theory of ‘open city’ proposed by Richard Sennett in his 2018 book, Building and Dwelling, which suggests a series of design interventions that when applied to cities can lead to an increase in sociability, complexity and tolerance of difference. Tehran is employed as a case study to examine whether open city theory is yet another Western formulation that is only applicable in democratic contexts. Considering Tehran’s top-down, oppressive, and authoritarian setting, it is seen here as a context in which the closedness and lack of active urban life in its streets and other public places are not only the result of architectural and planning schemes inherited from the ‘functional city’, as open city theory suggests, but instead are the result of rigid, top-down control mechanisms applied by the authorities. Therefore, based on feminist critical approaches such as meaning-in-context, and considering the discriminatory politics faced by women in their use of and access to public spaces in Iran, I challenge open city theory by suggesting that closedness, and its opposite, openness, are terms too charged with a Western sense of urbanisation. Instead, by examining the meaning, practicality and temporality of some of Sennett’s design interventions in Tehran, I suggest other potential ways that openness might occur; not through design, however, but among people and the solutions they find to overcome closedness in this city.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1690-1711
Number of pages22
JournalGender, Place, and Culture
Issue number12
Early online date6 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.
org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work
is properly cited.


  • Closedness
  • critical feminism
  • gender-segregated space
  • open city
  • openness


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