Skip to main content


Photo of Dr Maziyar Ghiabi

Dr Maziyar Ghiabi

DPhil (Oxon) MPhil (Oxon)

Wellcome Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities & Politics, Director of the Centre for Persian and Iranian Studies

I am the current Director for the Centre of Persian And Iranian Studies (CPIS) at the IAIS; and Wellcome Trust Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities and Politics. I am happy to supervise students working on different geographical and thematic areas as long as they refer to my research interests (see profile).

In terms of research, I am a transdisciplinary researcher working on politics and health using ethnographic and historical approaches. What does it mean? It means that I am interested in life as a biological and as a political phenomenon, in the way we organise and transform our societies not only through laws and formal scripts, but also through the practice of the everyday.

My approach to research uses all possible means of analysis, different methodologies regardless of disciplinary boundaries. I joined Exeter thanks to a large Wellcome University Award in Medical Humanities which funds a 5-year research project on 'Living "Addiction" in States of Disruption: a trandisciplinary approach to drug consumption and recovery in the Middle East'. The projet explores addiction through the perspectives of drug users and people in recovery in contexts of war, revolution and other disruptive historical events.

One of my research projects is concerned with drugs politics, i.e. how drugs affect state formation and state-society relations; and how the latter transform the phenomenon of drug consumption and drugs policy. I published numerous articles on this subject and I am the author of Drugs Politics: Managing Disorder in the Islamic Republic of Iran (London: Cambridge University Press, 2019). The book won  the MESA Book of the YEAR 2020, Nikkie Keddie Award for outstanding scholarly work on 'revolution, society and/or religion'. Another important publication that I produced is an edited volume: Power and Illegal Drugs in the Global South (Routledge, 2020) with a forward by anthropologist Philippe Bourgois

Another field of research is on the social theory of political life and political change in a comparative frame between the Arab world and other global cases of revolt/revolution/reaction. A book is forthcoming on this subject, co-authored with Billie Jeanne Brownlee. It's called A State without People: Revolt, Civil War, Displacement (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2022

So far, my work has concerned Iran and West  and Cental Asia, but I have also collaborated on projects on the Global South, especially in Central and South America

Before joining Exeter University, I was a researcher in Development Studies at SOAS, University of London, where I coordinated the comparative framework of a multi-year project on drugs and (dis)order in Colombia, Afghanistan and Myanmar, funded by GCRF-ESRC.

I obtained my DPhil/PhD in Politics at Oxford University, based at St Antony's college, where I also completed my MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. Following the end of doctorate I took up a postdoctoral fellowship in medical and political anthropology in Paris at the EHESS and a teaching position at SciencesPO. Between 2018 and 2020, I was a Lecturer in Modern Iranian History at Oxford University and Wadham College. This is an example of transdisciplinary research path.

I am also very interested in the use of visual methods in the social sciences and humanities, both in the study of ‘digital addictions’ and in providing participatory methods to research participants.

Since 2019, I sit on the Editorial Board of Third World Quarterly and the Social History of Drugs and Alcohol (Chicago University Press). I am interested in applicants working on a variety of topics, including: illegality (drugs, crime, violence), medical history, medical humanities, the politics of health (like covid-19 pandemic), comparative approaches between the Middle East and other global South cases.

My profile on Google Scholar provides details of my publications:

Research group links

Research interests

My interest falls at the crossroads of different disciplinary and intellectual fields, from medical anthropology and history (addicted lives), politics (drug policy and state formation), to the social theory of political life. I am keen in both ethnographic and archival research methodologies.

My approach is informed by 'epistemologies of the south' and ontological appraoch to the encounter of health/politics.

I work also on documentary making and photography as means of methodological engagement and therefore explore digital methods in combination with classical fieldwork.

Research supervision

Students willing to pursue research on topics related to the following are welcome to get in touch with me:

epistemologies of the south; ontological approach; medical humanities;

health and politics; drugs history and drug policy; medical history and anthropology,

comparative work between the Middle East and other global South cases.

Grassroots politics; rural politics.

I am happy to sponsor strong candidates for funding applications in relevant areas such as Wellcome Trust scholarships (PhD and Postdoc); ESRC; British Academy; and other funding schemes.


Current PhD students

Peyman Zinati (IAIS scholarship): Everyday Lives of Illicit Economies in Iranian Kurdistan.

Hannah Cowdell (1+3 ESRC): Transgender Citizenship in Lebanon.

Kamyar Salavati (IAIS scholarship): Architecture & Health in Modern Iranian History.

External impact and engagement

I am regular contributor to news outlets. See for example:


My journey in academia started in 2005 in Italy as a student at the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari, where I studied Arabic, Urdu and Persian languages and history of the Islamicate world. From then onwards, I spent my intellectual life at different departments, including International Relations, Area Studies, Medical History and Anthropology, Psychiatry and Medical Studies, Development Studies. I obtained my DPhil/PhD in Politics at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University in 2017 and spent teaching and research time at Oxford, SciencesPo Paris and Menton, EHESS, SOAS, Tehran University of Medical Studies, American University of Beirut, and eventually Exeter University.

I see this journey through different ideas, methods and persuasions akin to the work of mountaneer (which is my other great inclination in life beside writing and research): passing through different environments with different challenges requiring different equipements. In each of these, there is beauty and learning regardless of what you think of yourself, a passer-by, a hiker, a climber, or a mountaneer.

 Edit profile