Kian Tajbakhsh

Kian Tajbakhsh

Kian Tajbakhsh, Ph.D. (Columbia University, 1993), Presidential Fellow and Lecturer at Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought and Adjunct Professor of Urban Policy at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). An expert in International Relations, Global Governance, and Urban Policy, he has taught the core global governance requirement in the MA program on Global Thought since 2017. Additionally, since 2018 Tajbakhsh serves as the Coordinator of the Committee on Forced Migration , focusing on university-wide projects related to the challenges faced by forcibly displaced populations. Between 2016 and 2018, he held the position of Visiting (Full) Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia. His notable publication, "Creating Local Democracy in Iran: State-Building and the Politics of Decentralization," was released by Cambridge University Press in 2022 has been endorsed by leading scholars as, “a deeply researched account of how contemporary politics in Iran actually works…opens a revealing window onto everyday politics in Iran” (Lisa Anderson/FOREIGN AFFAIRS). “Among the academic works on the obstacles to democracy in Iran since 1979… [this book is] by far the most thorough, the most empirical and the most innovative work" (Ervand Abrahamian). Other reviews are here.

Prior to joining Columbia in 2016, Tajbakhsh accumulated fifteen years of international experience in urban policy, local government reform, democracy and human rights enhancement, and fostering international social science research collaborations. His consultancy work encompasses multiple World Bank projects, including leading a comprehensive study on municipal management and local economic development in Iran. He also spearheaded a groundbreaking collaboration project between Dutch and Iranian cities under an EU-funded public diplomacy initiative. Tajbakhsh has provided executive training to local government officials from various countries and worked extensively in regions such as the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia, including Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.

In his advocacy for democracy and human rights, Tajbakhsh represented the Open Society Foundation in Iran during the 2000s, launching initiatives to bolster civil society, women's rights, and the role of NGOs in various sectors. He advised the OSI international policy fellowship program at Central European University, Budapest, aimed at supporting emerging civic leaders from Muslim-majority countries.

Tajbakhsh's commitment to pro-democracy efforts led to his arrest during Iran's Green Movement protests in 2009. Following years of house arrest, he was released in 2016 as part of a negotiation under the Iran nuclear deal. His experiences, including his time in Evin Prison, have been featured in The New York Review of Books and discussed in national media outlets like PBS.

Recent publications include: “Iran Is Not a ‘Normal’ Country” The Atlantic (2024); “Albert Memmi and the Problem with Post-Colonialism” (Liberties 2024); "Iran's First Feminist Uprising" (2022). He is the author of The Promise of the City (University of California Press 2001). He co-edited the book City Diplomacy: The role of local governments in conflict prevention, peace-building, post-conflict reconstruction (The Hague, 2008). 


 “Getting Real About Iran” Foreign Affairs, March 2019.
 Foreign Affairs Experts Poll: Iran & U.S. interests in the Middle East…
 "Can the U.S. and Iran Avert a Military Confrontation?" Op-ed Columbia News July 2019.
 “Who Wants What from Iran Now? The Post-Nuclear Deal U.S. Policy Debate.” The Washington Quarterly 2018, 41:3.

 ‘The Political Economy of Fiscal Decentralization under the Islamic Republic of Iran’, The Muslim World, 111.1 (2021), 113–37
 “Authoritarian State Building through Political Decentralization and Local Government Law: Evidence from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” OÑATI SOCIO-LEGAL SERIES, VOL 10, NO 5 (2020)
 “What Are Iranians Dreaming about Today? Reflections on the Islamic Revolution at 40.” Social Research Journal: An International Quarterly Volume 86, Number 1, Spring 2019, pp. 305-335
 “Hind Swaraj: Reading Gandhi’s Critique of Modernity in Tehran.” Social Change (Sage) Vol 48, Issue 1, 2018.

“Mercy and Creative Solitude,” The 39th Annual Thomas Merton Lecture, Columbia University. Nov 15, 2016.
“Gandhi’s Spiritual Realism?” University of Delhi (New Delhi, India). April 11, 2019. Video at:

 Interviewed by PBS national TV program The Open Mind, “Academics in the Crosshairs”
April 2019.

My Prison Reading. The New York Review of Books.

An Iranian Dissident’s Tale by Eric Randolph. The New York Review of Books.

"Reading Rorty in Tehran, or What Happened When I Road-Tested Rorty’s Philosophy of Life Inside an Iranian Prison” in The Ethics of Richard Rorty, by Susan Dieleman, David E. McClean, and Paul Showler, (New York: Routledge, 2022),

Remembering Rajni Kothari and His Wisdom on Things Political. The Wire 2016.

 September 11: An Iranian In New York By Kian Tajbakhsh. November 28, 2001. The Iranian.

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