‘You are unfit for the city’: Bodies of right and rights of bodies in Iran

Image credit: Ali Rankouhi

By Dr Marzieh Kaivanara  

Why does Iran have one of the biggest markets in the world for aesthetic surgery? In seeking the answer to this question, I found that a number of different factors are at play: the market for cosmetic surgery is informed by culture, geographic and urban spaces, religion, and even politics.[1]

In Iran, bodies are scrutinised to be physically “fit” within the narrowed-down standards of beauty, ability, health, gender, age, class and so forth. Cities have the power to constantly eliminate individuals’ bodies that are considered “unfit” for the urban space; these include, but are not limited to: the so-called overweight, oversized, obese, visually impaired and people with any mobility impairment, wheelchair users, the elderly, cyclists, runners and even people using pushchairs. In a sense, all people are dealing with some form of disability and at some point in their lives will become disabled by the city’s physical layout. The city’s physical structure reinforces the notion of ‘the right body’, and raises urgent questions around the right to access – a fundamental human right.

Yes, over past decades, efforts have been made to make the big cities in Iran friendlier for cyclists and for visually-impaired people, through tactile paving for example. However, these provisions are not maintained, nor are they always accessible. Paths are usually blocked or come to an end halfway down the road. Despite the ratification, in 2009, of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, disabled people are still limited by the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure, and are therefore unable to assert a strong social and physical presence in Iran. In the absence of inclusive designs, wheelchair users, people with mobility impairments or the people using pushchairs are not able to use the city’s footpaths, recreation spaces and buildings without the help of others. In Iran today, you are likely to experience immobility or disability to some extent, regardless of your own individual “ability”.

Within and through these physical spaces, “atypical” bodies with social/medical labels (‘fat’, ‘obese’, ‘disabled’, ‘old’, ‘blind’) are materialised, and are cast out or seen in need of correction. Indeed, the material layout of the city determines how ‘correct’ or flawless a body is, and partly informs how individuals’ bodies are constructed as inherently problematic. The physical spaces affect people’s capacities to be (un)well, (dis)abled, (im)mobile, and in general, (un)fit. In essence, the social contexts, and more specifically urban spaces, do not make bodies fat or disabled but make these bodies “unfit”.

“Why cause trouble – for us, and for yourself?”

This is a common question in Tehran aimed at people whose bodies do not fit within the standards of normalcy. The material spaces – which are designed only for able, young, slim bodies – inform the experiences of place and become part of the person (or embodied), and reproduce the persons’ sense of “unfitting”. While the city council, normally, should be seen as responsible for such shortcomings and disabling arrangements, in practice the individuals with so-called “unfit” bodies become the target of the blame. They are pathologised to be “too fat”, “too immobile”, “too old”, even “too athletic”, and are encouraged to stay at home and keep out of trouble.

Bodies that transgress the boundaries of citizenship are removed from public view, and thus the definition of “right” bodies versus “wrong” bodies gets even narrower. The very absence of these excluded bodies helps shape public expectations and designate the boundaries of normality. The physical architecture of a public space – and the flow of people’s bodies in and out of that space – define the enactment of social life in public, all the while subtly influencing people’s thinking[2]. The Iranian city’s built environment can thus be held partly responsible for informing such views and leading people down the cosmetic surgery route.

On the issues of social justice and rights of citizenship, access to the built environment is uniquely important to the struggle for equality, because the segregationist ethos of society has quite literally been set in stone. Providing spaces for all people would facilitate their access to, and use of, public space by recognising their right to public space as citizens who are unique individuals and who have differences.

Researchers and policymakers need to work together in order to produce a more wide-ranging definition of “normal” in the social and physical spheres in which any non-normative bodies fit. Yes, researchers can play an important role in raising awareness of the right to access and (re)claiming the right to the city; but governmental support and the commitment of policymakers are paramount in the creation of physical spaces that acknowledge and welcome ALL people, along with any kind of ‘difference’.

[1] Kaivanara, M. 2017 “‘I Did It For My Self’: Ethnographic Study Of Cosmetic Surgery In Tehran, Iran”. PhD Thesis. University of Bristol. Bristol. UK.

[2] Amin, A 2006 “Collective Culture and Urban Public Space.” Excerpt from project “Inclusive Cities: Challenges of Urban Diversity”. The Woodrow Wilson International the Center for Scholars, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the CCCB.

A Day in Parliament: Kate Oliver STEM Finalist 2018

Image Credit: STEM4Brit

A day in Parliament: Kate Oliver, STEM Finalist 2018

On the 12th of March I went to Parliament, for the second time in my life, this time accompanied by a rolled up piece of A1 paper. I was going to ‘the major event bringing early career researchers and parliamentarians together’, STEM for Britain*.

This poster session, now in its 21st year following its founding by Eric Wharton MP, invites around 50 exhibitors in each of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering and Biological sciences to explain their work to the employees of Parliament and a panel of expert judges. Five of us from Bristol had been selected to present – around a third of applications are successful – all in different categories, and we had been preparing our two-minute pitches for a few weeks, with the help of our supervisors, university support staff, and patient friends. Continue reading

How women rice weeders in Italy took on fascism and became heroines of the left

File 20180306 146697 anixlc.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Bramfab via Wikipedia

Flora Derounian, University of Bristol 

In an era before the dawn of pesticides and mechanisation, an all-female workforce was employed to “disinfect” and harvest Italy’s rice crops. These Italian rice weeders may be a thing of the past, but they have a remarkable political legacy.

Italy was, and remains, Europe’s largest rice producer. The rice weeders, known in Italian as “mondine”, could be found knee-deep in flooded fields from May until July, across Italy’s “rice belt” which spans the northern regions of Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy and the Veneto. In my ongoing research, I study oral histories of rice weeders who worked between 1940 and 1965, collected from several interview projects and documentaries. Continue reading

Why the idea of ‘good work’ in a gig economy remains a distant ideal

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Tonia Novitz, University of Bristol; Alan L Bogg, University of Bristol; Katie Bales, University of Bristol; Michael Ford, University of Bristol, and Roseanne Russell, University of Bristol

Don Lane’s employment contract for his work as a courier described him as an “independent contractor”. This meant he was neither an “employee” nor a “worker”, so not entitled to legal rights such as protection against dismissal, paid holidays, or statutory sick pay.

The 53-year-old also suffered from diabetes, and had previously been fined £150 by the delivery firm he worked for for missing work to attend a hospital appointment. He died in January 2018 after working through the Christmas season despite his illness. Continue reading

Management consultants don’t save the NHS money – new evidence

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The NHS is strapped for cash.
Ink Drop / Shutterstock.com
Andrew Sturdy, University of Bristol

Few topics in the NHS have provoked as much controversy as the use of external management consultants. They provide advice on strategy, organisation and financial planning, and help implement new IT systems and other changes.

While some claim that this brings much needed improvements, critics question their value – particularly at a time when the NHS is strapped for cash. Even Patrick Carter, recently charged with reviewing NHS efficiency, admits that he has “a bugbear with employing management consultants”. Continue reading

Brexit negotiations phase two – here’s what happens next

Image: EPA/ Eric Vidal

Nieves Perez-Solorzano, University of Bristol 

The European Commission will advise the leaders of the 27 EU member states meeting at the European Council on December 15 to proceed with the second phase of Brexit negotiations. It judges there has been sufficient progress on the three key issues that it insisted should constitute the first phase of talks. Those are citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the UK’s financial settlement.

That doesn’t mean that a final solution has been achieved on any of these issues – just that there is enough common understanding between the EU27 and the British government to continue to the next phase of negotiations.

So, what next? Expect more of the same: time pressures, a well-choreographed approach from the EU leadership and a weak British government gradually converging with the European position. Continue reading

Why the annual winter health crisis could be solved in homes, not hospitals

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Richard Morris, University of Bristol

As winter continues, so does the usual soul searching about the state of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Images of ambulances backing up outside emergency departments and patients lying on trolleys in corridors haunt politicians and the public alike.

Demand on the NHS, which is always high, increases over the coldest of seasons, when threats to health are greatest. Generally, more than 20,000 extra deaths occur from December to March than in any other four-month period in England and Wales. That number varies considerably, however – from 17,460 in 2013-4 to 43,850 in 2014-5 (which was not even a particularly cold winter). And there has been no evidence of a decreasing trend since the early 1990s, despite the national flu immunisation programme. Continue reading

Blog: Never mind the policymakers

Never mind the policymakers, it is the policy wonks that researchers should be engaging with…

James Georgalakis, Director of Communications and Impact at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Perhaps one of the laziest terms used by the research and policy community across sectors is ‘policymaker’. Research funding bids, how to guides, blogs, academic papers and policy briefs are all awash with references to the ubiquitous policymaker. And before you point it out – yes I am guilty of it also. Who exactly are these policymakers and how do they use research evidence? This is the question the ESRC-DFID Impact Initiative for International Development Research asked in a scoping study of evidence use behaviours amongst those working to reduce global child poverty and inequality. Continue reading

Lessons learned from imposing performance-related pay on teachers

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Simon Burgess, University of Bristol


One of the toughest subjects in classrooms at the moment is the recruitment and retention of teachers. Their level of pay is often cited as a problem – and possibly part of a solution.

In England, the public sector pay freeze of recent years has meant real terms pay cuts for many teachers. But another part of the picture is the procedure which decides how much an individual teacher gets. Until recently this has been the pervasive public sector approach under which pay has generally increased automatically over time. Continue reading

Some thoughts on Carillion’s liquidation and systemic risk management in public procurement

Cranes stand on a Carillion construction site in central London, Britain January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

The story that was developing over the weekend finally broke as Carillion plc has gone into compulsory liquidation. Carillion is one of the largest contractors of the UK public sector and holds a very large number of contracts for a range of infrastructure and services projects. The immediate concern of the UK government will now be how to ensure continuous provision of those services (which include catering and cleaning services for schools and hospitals), and finding ways to ensure completion of the ongoing infrastructure projects, possibly through ‘bringing them in-house’ or re-nationalising the contracts–although it seems a reasonable to question whether there is capacity in the civil service and in local government to manage such a volume of complex outsourced contracts. Continue reading