The Social World of “Polluted” Carpets

By Narges Erami
Submitted to Session P3421 (In and Out of Pollution: Emergent Forms of (In)visibility in Contemporary Iran, 2013 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector without Audio;
In an industrial space on the outskirts of Tehran, there sits the largest carpet-cleaning factory in Iran. Handmade Persian carpets are transported here, not to be cleansed but to be transformed. The factory “saves” and helps preserve and rehabilitate carpets in dire conditions. In the last decade (2002-2012) the factory has mainly focused its operations on the “polluted carpets” of Tehran. While carpets are sent here from across Iran, it is “Tehran’s soot covered carpets” which have dominated and complicated questions of cleaning, cleansing, reviving and preserving carpets. Pollution, according to the carpet cleaners have “saved” many a carpets which would have been lost or destroyed otherwise by poor cleaning techniques of carpet owners. According to members of the carpet industry the assumption that pollution may be bad for one’s health or the environment functions quite differently when it comes to carpets. The soot creates a protective blanket which helps maintain and age the colors of the textile and alters the nature of the pile. Carpet sellers are excited at the prospect of recovering these polluted carpets and advertise such findings throughout households in Tehran as soot-covered (farsh-i dudihii) rather than “dirty” (kasif) and insist that these carpets must not be cleaned at home but rather by professionals in order to be preserved. The pollution crisis in Tehran has created a specialized industry and provided a value on pollution while representing pollution as a permanent part of life.

This paper addresses the value and crisis in acknowledging pollution and its manifestation in the realm of socioeconomic factors, especially in the discourses on citizen-state rights and various forms of subjectivities (Mitchell 2011). I draw on ethnographic and in-depth interviews conducted over ten years to gain a differentiated understanding and an analysis of how pollution is defined and understood in everyday lives of ordinary Iranians through the carpet industry. The implication of how pollution is perceived and the discourses around it are expressed, perform a certain opposition between citizen and sate, and implicates how society functions in the process. Moreover, it is associated with a paradoxical and fetishistic investment in the language of rights (health and environment). This fetishism is associated with a simultaneous spectralization of rights and a capitalist reification of how pollution functions (Haraway & Latour 2003). Finally this paper will underscore how pollution becomes a significant reframing of a national form of cultural production.