"Iranian, buying foreign goods is treason!" Prestige and the struggle for a life beyond precarity in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Simon Theobald (Australian National University)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on fieldwork with the middle class in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city, this paper explores consumer practices as a response to institutional economic and social instability. I look to how consumption is justified as an act that restores stability in such a precarious environment.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines how middle class Iranians attempt to build a sense of personal and familial stability in contemporary Iran amidst a maelstrom of economic and social uncertainties. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Iranian economy has been characterised by shifting experiments with nationalisation, state planning, and government interventionism on the one hand, and liberalising attempts at building a 'free market' on the other. Today, these ideologies compete with one another to provide a solution to Iran's economic woes that continue to eat into the quality of life of almost all sectors of society. On top of this is the vexed conflict between social reformists who want to bring Iranian society closer into conformity with international human rights regimes, and conservatives who continue to resist such calls as Western imperialism. Against this backdrop, middle class Iranians continue to hold out hope for a lifestyle comparable with wealthy Western nations, even as the reality of ongoing economic weakness, high unemployment, and political and social instability limits meaningful improvements. In this paper I look explicitly to how the middle class in Mashhad struggle to achieve some semblance of certainty through the purchase of consumer items, and the importance of brand names and social prestige in framing such acquisitions. I ask: what are the purchasing strategies that are deployed to create stability, why are they understood as stabilising, and how will the conflict between foreign imports and domestically produced goods impact on this effort?
Visions beyond precarity: envisaging and practicing alternatives to neo-liberal modernity