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In my work, I use ethnography to center the everyday lives and emancipatory projects of marginalized Middle Eastern groups living in economic insecurity. Collectively, my research agenda takes a bottom-up look into how stigmatized identities are created, reproduced, and contested in efforts to claim cultural membership. My current work focuses on Iran and involves three main projects:

Socially Stigmatized Work: In the face of maximum pressure sanctions, rising inflation, and growing unemployment, more and more people in Iran’s cities have had to turn to stigmatized, low-paying service work to make ends meet. Drawing from observations and in-depth interviews with these urban poor workers, I analyze how their pursuit of economic stability has affected social cohesion, gender relations, and class divisions. This longitudinal project considers the cultural consequences of “dirty work” in environments marked by prolonged insecurity.


Inequality and the Built Environment: As the rural poor continue to migrate to large cities in Iran in search of better opportunities, they make urban public spaces their own. How do elites respond to their attempts at inclusion? Based on fieldwork in Iran’s provinces, this project examines how privilege manifests in the built environment to amplify inequality.

Youth Poverty: Young people constitute the majority of Iran’s population and yet many are marginalized and face immense challenges in their pursuit of the good life. My first book, Coming of Age in Iran: Poverty and the Struggle for Dignity, documents how economically disadvantaged youth attempt to leverage community judgements to achieve status, recognition, and material rewards. This project offers an on-the-ground look into the multiple pathways that work to create durable micro systems of worth that lift some up while further excluding others.  

Image © Farzin Mahmoudzadeh

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