Mobility and status in Iran’s P?yin-e Shahr

By Manata Hashemi
Submitted to Session P4968 (Cultural Politics of Youth, 2017 Annual Meeting
Iranian Studies;
This paper draws on three years of ethnographic research among groups of low-income men and women in the downtown areas (pa'in-e shahr) of Tehran and the province of Mazandaran to examine how social status is constituted among these youth. In showing how the youth in this study maneuver between being young and poor within Iran’s current economic climate, I argue that these young people accumulate status gains that are strategically manageable and valuable for them, and that enable them to improve their life chances within structural conditions of economic hardship. In examining the strategies that these youth employ to gain subjectively meaningful shifts in status, this study questions traditional definitions of status that privilege occupational prestige at the expense of looking at the short-distance status shifts that arise as a result of gains made in the informal labor market, in one's social networks and in one’s cultural capital. Indeed, a focus on these marginal, but subjectively meaningful socioeconomic "wins" in the pa'in-e shahr areas of Iran provides a more discriminating analysis of youth poverty and mobility in the Islamic Republic that takes into account the multitude of micro-movements that some youth make in their everyday lives and that are perceived and experienced as deeply important by both the youth and their communities. Thus, what analysts often construe as the seeming persistence of socioeconomic exclusion among the poor in Iran may in fact be rationalized by the poor themselves as a slow and grinding, but upward march so long as they achieve outcomes that are valuable to them and that yield relative gratification.