Precarious Lives: Waiting and Hope in Iran

Precarious Lives: Waiting and Hope in Iran

Precarious Lives: Waiting and Hope in Iran

Precarious Lives: Waiting and Hope in Iran


In Precarious Lives, Shahram Khosravi attempts to reconcile the paradoxes of Iranians' everyday life in the first decade of the twenty-first century. On the one hand, multiple circumstances of precarity give rise to a sense of hopelessness, shared visions of a futureless tomorrow, widespread home(land)lessness, intense individualism, and a growth of incivilities. On the other, daydreaming and hope, as well as civility and solidarity in political protests, street carnivals, and social movements, continue to persist. Young Iranians describe themselves as being stuck in purposelessness and forced to endure endless waiting, and they are also aware that they are perceived as unproductive and a burden on their society. Despite the aspirations and inspiration they possess, they find themselves forced into petrifying social and spatial immobility. Uncertainty in the present, a seemingly futureless tomorrow: these are the circumstances that Khosravi explores in Precarious Lives.

Creating an intricate and moving portrait of contemporary Iranian life, Khosravi weaves together individual stories, government reports, statistics, and cultural analysis of art and literature to depict how Iranians react to the experience of precarity and the possibility of hope. Drawing on extensive ethnographic engagement with youth in Tehran and Isfahan as well as with migrant workers in rural areas, Khosravi examines the complexities and contradictions of everyday life in Iran. Precarious Lives is a vital work of contemporary anthropology that serves as a testament to the shared hardship and hope of the Iranian people.


This book deals with nothing other than hoping beyond the day
which has become.

—Ernst Bloch (1996 [1959]: 10)

On a hot day in late June 2014, I was to meet Hamed at 2 p.m. on the west side of Valiasr Square. In early summer, the day temperature in Tehran can easily reach 45° C in the shade. Valiasr Square is a central node in Tehran, a busy business zone, close to major universities. The hot sun did not drive people away, and the square was as usual crammed with people and cars. This was the first time Hamed and I would meet; we had spoken only on the telephone a couple of times, after a mutual acquaintance in Kabul had put us in contact. I could easily feel Hamed’s hesitation—he had changed the time and place for our meeting several times—but he was too gracious to reject my request for an interview. I understood his concerns and anxiety. I had asked him for an interview for an article I was writing on post-deportation because he had been deported from Sweden a year earlier and I wanted to know what had happened to him afterward. It was already 2:20 p.m., and he had not yet shown up. I thought that a police car parked on the west side of the square might have deterred his approach, so I moved from the square to Keshavarz Boulevard. I was right. Hamed had sent a text message saying that he wanted to avoid passing the police car, and we should go to the southern side of the square. And there he was, a tall, handsome young man in a white shirt with small blue flowers hanging over a pair of jeans. A few minutes later we were sitting in a coffee shop with two chilled bottles of Iran-made nonalcoholic beer with citron flavor on our table.

Hamed is an Afghan Iranian man, born in 1990 in Tehran to undocumented Afghan parents, who had escaped Afghanistan after the Soviet . . .

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