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Flowers in garbage: material evidence of prostitution in late 19-21th century Iran

Chapter in book
Authors Leila Papoli-yazdi
Maryam Dezhamkhooy
Published in Private Lives, Public Histories: An Ethnohistory of the Intimate Past.
Publisher Lexington Books
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Language en
Keywords garbage, archaeology, prostitution, Iran, modernization, women, recent/contemporary past, red district.
Subject categories Archaeology, History and Archaeology


The archaeology of garbage project is supported by Tehran Municipality and conducted to investigate the daily garbage of inhabitants of two districts of the capital city, one in north east mostly occupied by Middle and well off classes, District 7, and the other, District 17, inhabited by very low statues located in southern area of the city. During the first phase conducted in 2018. we sorted and analyzed 1082 bin bags of domestic garbage. Among the discarded materials, we recognized traces of a strange but developing lifestyle. According to evidence, we propose to consider it as a newly rising prostitution pattern. After a couple of weeks of working in District 17, founding a series of daily garbage fills repetitively without any traces of normal daily lives leaded us to conclude that these were results of some particular hidden lifestyle. Towards figuring out the pattern, the researchers spent more hours in the avenues where this sort of garbage were accumulated. We documented the trash fills and interviewed the people living in the close neighborhood who were aware of the cases. Very surprisingly, the life style was belonged to the prostitutes who temporarily lived in the district. The prostitutes serve their customers and then just after earning their money leave the neighborhood, during this, they ate the food, usually fast food and snack, provided by the costumer, produce some garbage, wasting some material and eventually threw them out. Their garbage fills mostly contain special sorts of underwear, food which shows that there are some prostitutes who charge the man also for a daily meal, also condoms and evidences of drugs’ abusing. The same pattern was also observed in District 7 where more wealthy Tehrani inhabitants live. The similarities in discarded stuff convinced us more to envisage the pattern. Finding such evidences gave us an alibi to work on the historical text to trace the patterns of prostituation in Tehran. Some written documents suggested that redi districts were constructed in the city from 1910s at the end of Qajar dynasty. Following the dosuments and also investigating Tehran plans represents that three phases of prostitution can be explored. The first phase, from 1900 to 1925, is when the newly established police of Tehran kiced out the marginalized statuses such as criminals, gyosies and prostitutes out of Tehran. They settled in the city ditch. The second phase started when Arbab Jamshid built a district for these people , Shahr-e nou. This red district was the most known and the main brothel of Tehran till 1979 Revolution. Noteworthy, after 1979 the revolution prostitution was considered illegal; the conservatists demolished the old known red district of Tehran (Shahr-e Now) which made the prostitutes to be scattered all over the city. But the currency drops of 2010-2018, has been caused the increasing number of the women who have to work as sex workers. Iranian governments never approve/release the statistics of prostitution but there are scholars, such as the sociologist Saeed Madani, who have worked on the case and had been arrested because of that. Our findings represent that the patterns of prostitution has changed through the time from 1970s till today, from the women who lived in very particular areas to (ordinary?)women who (temporarily) work as sex workers. It will be attempted to configure “the geography of prostitution”, tensions, prohibitions and pressures on prostitutes and their bodies in their everyday life. In this article, the authors try to elucidate the changing pattern of prostitution during the last five decades of Iran recent/ contemporary history by investigating the material culture found in garbage fills, surveying the city plan, archival data, in particular photo archives, and exploring the economic and social pressures the people are tolerating in the country. The article includes three episode regarding the three phases of prostutiation history in Tehran from 1900 till recent years.

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