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section of the Bazaar. In the 1950s, when his family left the house, small
workshops and warehouses dominated the area, and then in the 1970s
owners converted these units into commercial spaces. Through the
1970s as the traf¬c worsened and industrial regions in Tehran™s western
satellite cities and in the south expanded, many of the manufacturing
activities left the central bazaar area and their buildings were taken over
by commercial activities, predominantly international trade, wholesale,
and brokerage, rather than retail. Today, the plot of land that used to be
the paper wholesaler™s family home is now a four-story commercial
complex housing some forty small shops and of¬ces.
To sum up, despite the morphological transformations within the
Tehran Bazaar over the past century, the spatial continuity of the Bazaar
has helped maintain continuity with the past. Trades and levels of
economic activities have responded to changing socioeconomic forces
and political initiatives, yet the Bazaar™s boundaries have remained
constant and have been reinforced by the grid system built around it.

Four conceptions of the bazaar

The bazaar as traditional type
The most prevalent depiction of the Iranian bazaar privileges general-
ized cultural factors. This long-standing literature views the bazaar as
17
Pasazh, from the French passage, is a contemporary term to describe shopping centers
inside and outside the Bazaar. Ostensibly they are newer versions of saras. Outside of
the Bazaar, pasazh can refer to larger mall-like shopping centers catering to wealthier
Tehranis.
Conceptualizing the bazaar 47

constituting a holistic way of life encompassing economic forms, poli-
tical sensibilities, social relations, and ideological persuasions all of
which fall under the rubric ˜˜traditional.™™ This approach highlights the
multifaceted nature of marketplaces and forces us to see the Tehran
Bazaar as more than a purely economic sector.
Modernization theory, which dominated the social sciences in the
United States during the post-World War II era, has in¬‚uenced much of
this literature.18 In its most theoretically pure form, modernization theory
was championed as a general theory of social change “ social change being
evidenced by changes in the social system as a result of changing values.
The approach begins with the assumption that social systems, including
political systems, are holistic, bounded, self-suf¬cient, and persisting
units. Like biological and mechanical systems, social systems receive
inputs (functions to be ful¬lled) and produce outputs via structures, which
in turn may feedback into the system. Hence, when inputs ˜˜modernize,™™
the con¬guration of structures must adapt and integrate demands in order
for the system to persist.
Modernization theorists view change as an organic procession from
traditionalism to modernity. Traditionalism signi¬es values and cultural
factors, including strong kinship ties, ˜˜simple™™ exchange, indirect forms
of governance, and nonconsensual authority relations. Modernity, on
the other hand, is conceived of as a set of values and personality traits,
such as mobility, individuality, and entrepreneurial spirit, necessary for
the modernization of society. This in turn translates into an evolutionary
process marked by increasing economic growth, social complexity, dif-
ferentiation in structures, and expanding demand and capacities of
structures. Explicit in this formalization of change is the model of
western experience as the universal model for change, both analytically
and normatively. Lerner, for example, calls on Middle Easterners to
study the western historical sequence to understand the steps and path
to be taken.19 It should be noted that the view of western development is
uncontentious, unilinear, and not varying across the West. Therefore,
18
Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East (Glencoe,
IL: The Free Press, 1958); Gabriel A. Almond and James S. Coleman, eds., The Politics
of Developing Areas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960); Neil Smelser,
˜˜Mechanisms of Change and Adjustment to Change,™™ in Political Development and
Social Change, ed. Jason L. Finkle and Richard W. Gable (New York: John Wiley and
Sons, 1966); and David Easton, ˜˜An Approach to the Analysis of Political System,™™
World Politics 9 (April 1957), 383“400.
19
Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society, p. 46. Gabriel Almond writes, ˜˜The political
scientist who wishes to study political modernization in the non-Western areas will have
to master the model of the modern, which in turn can only be derived from the most
careful empirical and formal analysis of the functions of the modern Western politics.™™
Almond and Coleman eds., The Politics of Developing Areas, p. 64.
48 Bazaar and State in Iran

this account, like orthodox Marxism, is a convergence theory, with the
end-point being the modern West.
Until recently, the majority of the scholarship on Iran followed the
modernization theory approach. For Iran specialists, modernization
theory is more a language and a descriptive schema than a systematic
analytical tool, yet it is clearly the basic reference to understand socio-
economic and political change. The proposition of these works is that
Iran is transitioning from traditional to modern forms.
From within this framework the bazaar ¬ts neatly into the category of
traditional culture. The exact characteristics of the sources for this
traditionalism are not delineated, but it is clear that authors working in
this paradigm are implying that the bazaar is united by a generalized set
of principles, shared set of norms, and outlook. One of the leading
historians of modern Iran, Nikki Keddie, applies the traditional“modern
duality to the Iranian case and situates the bazaar squarely in the tra-
ditional realm. By bazaaris she means
not only those who had shops in the bazaar but also those who carried on retail
and export trade and manufacture of a traditional rather than a modern type.
Bazaaris are not a class in the Marxist sense, as they have different relations to
the means of production; . . . nonetheless the expression ˜˜bazaaris™™ has meaning
in its involvement with petty trade, production, and banking of a largely tradi-
tional or only slightly modernized nature, as well as centering on the bazaar areas
and traditional Islamic culture.20
Therefore, the bazaar takes meaning through its traditional type and
nature, and is de¬ned neither spatially nor by objective positions in a
class system. In Keddie™s conceptualization and other writings in this
vein, it is unclear which structural or systemic factors de¬ne, produce,
and regenerate the bazaari identity, activity, and culture. In lieu of
analyzing the mechanisms behind this traditionalism, her analysis con-
tinues by aligning modernity with the West and juxtaposes the bazaar to
it: ˜˜Most of them [bazaaris] are united in their resistance to dependence
on the West and the spread of Western ways. Although Western goods
are widely sold in the bazaars, the growth of supermarkets, department
stores, large banks, and goods like machine-made carpeting that com-
pete with Persian rugs added to Western control of Iran™s economy and
reduced the role of the bazaar.™™21 This suggests that the cultural attri-
butes of the bazaar are related to its position in the world economy. The
relationships between these structures, however, are not stipulated and
would necessarily have to be highly complex for a number of reasons

20 21
Keddie, Roots of Revolution, p. 244, emphasis added. Ibid.
Conceptualizing the bazaar 49

(e.g. the multitude of sectors within the bazaar relate to the world
economy differently, bazaaris generally pro¬ted from the expansion of
commerce in the 1960s and 1970s, and many members of the bazaar
have had close ties with members of the so-called westernized sectors.)
Ahmad Ashraf, another prominent scholar of modern Iran, blends
Weberian notions of patrimonialism and Marxist theory of asiatic modes
of production to chart a historical trajectory for Iran that is distinct from
the western capitalist path. Within his historical structural approach,
Ashraf pays particular attention to the bazaar. For Ashraf ˜˜the bazaar
has served as the cradle of the traditional urban culture in Iran, and has
maintained and reproduced its cultural elements in the face of moder-
nization and development.™™22 Again such questions as which cultural
elements make up this traditionalism and which mechanisms reproduce
it are not explicitly addressed.
A possible mechanism underlying this analysis is Ashraf™s proposition
that the bazaar™s character is shaped by its alliance with the mosque. For
instance, in his comprehensive article in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, the
bazaars™ functions are listed: ˜˜The bazar in the Islamic Iranian city has
¯¯
been (1) a central marketplace and craft center located in the old
quarters of the town; (2) a primary arena, along with the mosque, for
extrafamilial sociability; and (3) a sociocultural milieu of a traditional
urban life style. The bazar in contemporary Iran has performed two
¯¯
more roles of great signi¬cance; (4) a socioeconomic and power base of
the Shi˜ite religious establishment; and (5) a bastion of political protest
movements.™™23 Ashraf and many other scholars stress the close kinship
and economic ties between the bazaar and Shiite clergy as well as the
close physical proximity between the bazaar and seminaries and mos-
ques (see Chapter 6). Hence, Ashraf concludes that the bazaaris and
clergy ˜˜share certain similarities in their life-style and world view.™™24 An
American anthropologist who studied the Tehran Bazaar in the 1960s
and 1970s states the religion-centered view more boldly:
The bazaar is a total social phenomenon and a corporate entity, and this corpo-
rateness is seen in religious terms. In fact, Islam . . . is so comprehensive in the
bazaar that it is explicit in almost all the idioms of social action. The formal religion,
Islam, is the ideology of the bazaar community in an extreme way. With its high
preponderance of individual ˜˜subsistence™™ operators, the bazaar community

22
Ahmad Ashraf, ˜˜Bazaar and Mosque in Iran™s Revolution,™™ MERIP Reports 113
(March“April 1983), 16. Later in the same article he writes, ˜˜Most of the bazaari
elements have maintained their traditional cultural mode of behavior and outlook.™™
23
¯¯
Ahmad Ashraf, Encyclopdia Iranica, s.v.˜˜Bazar: Socioeconomic and Political Role of the
¯¯
Bazar,™™ p. 30.
24
Ibid., p. 31.
50 Bazaar and State in Iran

constitutes a proletariat under the leadership of the religious class, and provides the
core of moral support for its more reactionary elements.25
Although the conclusion that the bazaar and religious belief and insti-
tutions are wedded will be discussed at length in Chapter 6, it is
important to note that these views have not been systematically studied
or substantiated, and the one-dimensional view of the bazaar as religious
has recently been questioned.
One may think that the bazaar-as-tradition view is due to the macro-
historical nature of these studies; however, the excellent ¬eld research by
anthropologists and geographers often returns to this duality when they
step out of their hermeneutics. For instance, in a unique and insightful
study of Yazd™s commercial units, Michael Bonine proposes, ˜˜If this
title [i.e. hajji, or someone who has gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca] may
be used as an outward sign of religiosity (as well as wealth), it appears
that in Yazd, due to the similar percentages of hajjis, the same value
systems operate on the avenue as in the bazaar. Hence, it may be
incorrect to consider the bazaar as the derelict, traditional commercial
area and the avenues as the progressive, modern zone.™™26 Yet, Bonine
concludes the essay by writing, ˜˜The avenues represent an extension of
the bazaar system. Although there is less specialization and even some
Western-type stores, a similar linear arrangement of small stalls, shop-
keeper characteristics, and many other traditional facets characterize the
commercial zones of the avenues. In many respects, the avenues are as
traditional as the bazaar is modern.™™27 While Bonine™s empirical insights
question the binary opposition of modern and traditional in comparing
the bazaar and the street, his conclusions unfortunately frame his
¬ndings in this dichotomous manner. Similarly, Rotblat frames his
analysis of the Qazvin Bazaar in the tradition of Parsonian systems
analysis. However, once you go beyond the introductory chapter, the
rich empirical analysis presents a far more complex scenario, with
agency and relational factors being critical principles at work in his
analysis of Qazvin™s commercial sector, rather than the parsimonious
equilibrating social systems assumed by modernization theory.28
25
Brian Spooner, ˜˜Religion and Society Today: An Anthropological Perspective,™™ in Iran
Faces the Seventies, ed. Ehsan Yar-Shater (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), p. 171.
Also see, Gustav Thaiss, ˜˜The Bazaar as a Case Study of Religion and Social Change,™™
in Iran Faces the Seventies, ed. Ehsan Yar-Shater (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971).
26
Michael E. Bonine, ˜˜Shops and Shopkeepers: Dynamics of an Iranian Provincial
Bazaar,™™ in Modern Iran, ed. M. E. Bonine and Nikki R. Keddie (Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1981), p. 249.
27
Ibid., p. 258.
28
Rotblat, ˜˜Stability and Change in an Iranian Provincial Bazaar.™™ For example, in his
excellent sociological study of the Qazvin Bazaar (a provincial bazaar 140 kilometers
Conceptualizing the bazaar 51

This perspective allows these scholars to understand what they believe
to be the persistence of attitudes and structures in the bazaar by de¬-
nition; traditional implies inertia and a static nature. Rotblat™s argument
is quite typical of modernization theories: ˜˜[T]he persistence of tradi-
tional forms of organization in these marketplaces suggests that existing
institutional patterns within the bazaars themselves also inhibit their
adaptability to ongoing economic change and contribute to their present
stagnation.™™29 Tradition is a force that insinuates itself into the souls of
individuals, altering the way they act. This mechanistic image has
obvious pitfalls since culture is not a constant, but an ongoing process,
continuously constructed and reproduced by interactions with its
community, shaping it as much as being shaped by it.
The shortcomings of modernization theory in general, and the
traditional“modern dichotomy in particular, are now well documented
and I do not want to repeat them here.30 Instead, I will brie¬‚y discuss
how these shortcomings are re¬‚ected in the conceptualization of the
bazaar as traditional. As the quotes above illustrate, the conceptualiza-
tion of the bazaar as a bastion of traditional culture over-explains con-
tinuities and under-explains discontinuities in the bazaar. It is unclear
why the bazaar™s nature is tied to a structure encompassing economic,
political, and social forms that are melded together in ways that render it
impervious to international, national, and even city-level changes.
Hence, in more crude works, this orientation has fostered a methodol-
ogy that cites descriptions of the bazaar in the sixteenth century
alongside those from the twentieth century without asking how and why
this stasis has prevailed, assuming that it has. This approach is based on
a circular argument: the bazaar is described as traditional, and the tra-
ditional is static; therefore the bazaar is unchanging. Second, changes in
practices and organizations, such as those that I will identify, are left
unexplored. The bazaar is tacitly juxtaposed to an ideal ˜˜modern

west of Tehran) he shows that in the 1960s there existed complex systems of credit and
bookkeeping that allowed for the expansion and re¬nement of market activity. He also
pays special attention to the specialized roles and differences between occupations and
sectors within the Bazaar and points out how the Qazvin Bazaar differs from bazaars in
other parts of Iran. Finally, he demonstrates how the Qazvin Bazaar was profoundly
altered by external institutional changes.
29
Howard J. Rotblat, ˜˜Social Organization and Development in an Iranian Provincial
Bazaar,™™ Economic and Cultural Change 23 (1975), 293.
30
Empirical and theoretical critiques are presented by Brian Barry, Sociologist, Economists
& Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Reinhard Bendix, Nation-
Building and Citizenship: Studies of Our Changing Social Order (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1977); Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968); Leonard Binder et al., Crises and Sequences
in Political Development (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).
52 Bazaar and State in Iran

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