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Saving Face

Saving Face

(p.35) 1 Saving Face
Coming of Age in Iran
Manata Hashemi
NYU Press

This chapter examines the history and structure of face (aberu) and facework in Iran. Upon analyzing the interlinkages between saving face and cultural norms of modesty, the chapter argues that face-savers uphold a moral code comprised of four rules—hard work, self-sufficiency, appearance, and purity—that mitigate threats to their face. These rules serve as moral evaluative distinctions by which both face-savers and members of their community judge others’ moral worth. This process leads to a system of micro-stratification within low-income communities, whereby those who have accumulated moral capital by mimicking middle-class values hold a higher status than those who have not. By exchanging their moral capital for social and economic benefits, face-savers come to gain social mobility within poverty. Agency thus lies in the process of ritual compliance to the social order. The chapter further discusses how face-savers’ aspirations for middle-class lifestyles not only reflect the embourgeoisement of Iranian society beyond the middle and upper classes, but also the state’s own developmental initiatives.

Keywords:   face rules, symbolic boundaries, cultural mimicry, embourgeoisement, agency, ritual action, moral capital

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