<<

. 23
( 55 .)



>>

also common that second-generation bazaaris would switch lines of work
(See Illustration 3.1). Evidence suggests that switching lines of work did
not protect from sons association with disreputable fathers. The horizontal

108
Charles Tilly, ˜˜Trust and Rule,™™ Social Theory 33 (2004), 1“30.
109
Of course his capacity to ¬‚ourish was dependent on the muni¬cence of his master.
Before the Revolution, however, market conditions (expanding consumerism,
urbanization, and commercial areas) favored apprentices by providing them
opportunities for establishing their own businesses.
110
Thaiss, ˜˜Religious Symbolism and Social Change,™™ p. 51.
120 Bazaar and State in Iran

and multiplex relations within the Bazaar created avenues for bazaaris to
check the past performance of new entrants.
Hence, the structure of the actual marketplace and the relations of
exchange partners are the critical requisites to acquire a reputation as
trustworthy and learn the standards by which one is to be judged.
Instrumentally speaking, it is vital that actors understand what the group
deems as good or honorable behavior, while also grasping what is con-
sidered reprehensible or unforgivable. In the process one has to learn how
to exhibit and signal the appropriate virtues, as well as detect and judge
the reputation of potential trading partners. Finally, the learning process
includes acquiring knowledge about the sometimes subtle forms of
rewarding and penalizing. On-the-job training directly serves to construct
group members with these skills, and vibrant communities passively instill
these norms through positive and negative inducements and persuasion.
It is not enough simply to learn the criteria for reputability; there must
be a means to demonstrate trustworthiness, evaluate actions and actors,
and disseminate information. In fact, if a group lacks the mechanism for
evaluating reputations and responding to them, there will be no need to
invest time and effort to become reputable. The value of acquiring a
good reputation is contingent upon a viable arena for evaluating and
publicizing reputations, allowing exchange partners to make credible
commitments through placing their good name on the line. The
necessary conditions for this process include stability in relations.
However, simple long-term dyads are not enough to punish disreputable
behavior at the level of the group. Reputation, or status, at the group
level requires a public arena in which honest (or fraudulent) behavior
can be acknowledged and rewarded (or derided). As Portes and Sen-
senbrenner have noted, the desire to have ˜˜good standing™™ in the group
is predominately ˜˜utilitarian, except that the actor™s behavior is not
oriented to a particular other but to the prism of social networks of the
entire community.™™111 The publicizing process disseminates informa-
tion throughout the group. As status is gained within the group, those
who attain approval have an interest in monitoring and enforcing the
criteria by which they achieved their communal status.112 If the repu-
tation successfully identi¬es transaction partners who are cooperative

111
Alejandro Portes and Julia Sensenbrenner, ˜˜Embeddedness and Immigration: Notes
on the Social Determinants of Economic Action,™™ in The New Institutionalism in
Sociology, ed. Mary C. Brinton and Victor Nee (New York: Russell Sage Foundation,
1998), p. 130.
112
Victor Nee and Paul Ingram, ˜˜Embeddedness and Beyond: Institutions, Exchange,
and Social Structure,™™ in The New Institutionalism in Sociology, ed. Mary C. Brinton
and Victor Nee (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1998), p. 28.
Bazaar transformations 121

and those who are untrustworthy, group members develop trust in the
overall system and not simply in their exchange partners.
In the past, reputations were maintained and publicized in the Tehran
Bazaar through cooperative hierarchies. Stable clientelist ties were the
mode by which reputable bazaaris reproduced and enhanced their fame.
Meanwhile, as we saw in the discussion of the credit system, cross-
cutting and multifaceted relations helped to disseminate information
about a wide variety of Bazaar members. In hayats and coffeehouses,
private knowledge could quickly turn into public/Bazaar knowledge.
Bazaaris were able to question a myriad actors to gather information
about the potential quality of exchange partners. Also, prior to the
Revolution, dissemination and evaluation of traders was primarily done
by brokers. Brokers had an interest in creating and perpetuating an
accurate and timely method of information exchange about the past
performance of bazaaris. Moreover, the elders had an interest in
maintaining the system that brought them their social standing. The
preferences of these critical members of the Bazaar were endogenous to
the economic process, not prior to it. Thus, all bazaaris knew that
reputation mattered not only in the context of a particular transaction,
but also in the context of the entire group. Commitments were made
credible because bazaaris were placing their own reputations (mus-
taches) on the line, and these reputations were the very asset that they
needed in the Bazaar.
The Bazaar™s instability and fragmentation eviscerated all aspects of
the reputation system. The apprenticeship for new entrants is dis-
appearing in many parts of the Bazaar. Many younger bazaaris in sectors
selling manufacturing goods mentioned that they entered their occu-
pations without any signi¬cant time as an apprentice; instead they
arrived with capital, and this was enough to set up a business within the
coercive hierarchies. Since many commercial activities involve contacts
outside the Bazaar (e.g. access to legal and smuggled goods, credit, and
hard currency), new entrants are less dependent on ˜˜knowing™™ the
Bazaar and its characters. Meanwhile, young apprentices are in a pre-
carious position in the new economy. The cost of shops in the Bazaar
and other central commercial areas is extremely high and has made
starting up a business in these areas all but impossible. Gradual accu-
mulation of social capital cannot substitute for economic capital.
More signi¬cantly, the monitoring and enforcement of reputations is
less pro¬cient. The decline in multiplex relations has reduced the
opportunities to earn trust, exhibit reputation, and use multilateral
sanctioning techniques (shaming and gossiping) at social gatherings and
everyday encounters. Second, as the discussion of smuggling networks
122 Bazaar and State in Iran

argued, traders now tend to conceal their identity, let alone their
reputation. The decline of brokers has also robbed the Bazaar of an
important group of people who acted as the monitors of reputation.
Finally, the evaluations of reputation have become far less accurate,
because relations have become more short term (i.e. the expectation of
future interactions is reduced), new entrants have joined the Bazaar, and
relations is more strati¬ed between ˜˜old, reputable traders™™ and
˜˜younger, postrevolutionary types.™™
A discussion with a cloth distributor nicely captures the decline in
reputation as a means of enforcing agreements. As I was sitting on the
bus from the Bazaar to northern Tehran, I struck up a conversation with
the affable middle-aged cloth seller. After some small-talk, the con-
versation turned to my research interests and his experiences in the
Bazaar. To illustrate the travails facing bazaaris, he told me that a
retailer in Isfahan (a customer of his for several years) had forfeited the
funds that were owed to him. Now the distributor was helpless since he
did not have documents or checks to use in a court of law. I asked him
why he didn™t use intermediaries and shaming as a method to seek
reimbursement, or at least to punish him and for his noncompliance. He
responded that ˜˜these things are no longer any use. Merchants are
mobile, they can jump from one wholesaler to another, or from one
trade to another.™™ In this context, failing to pay back debts is a public
expression that a debtor has renounced his ties to the creditor as well as
the Bazaar™s reputation system. Poignantly, the cloth seller ended his
explanation by noting that people now blame creditors for not getting
checks and cash up front. He was well aware that the ¬‚uidity of relations
and occupations made it dif¬cult to control exchange partners. More-
over, his ¬nal comment suggests that bazaaris are modifying their norms
and expectations. Handshakes and strands of mustaches are no longer
deemed acceptable practices. Reputation as a mode of governing the
affairs of the Bazaar has lost its value, and with its decline, past cultural
beliefs (held by individuals) are susceptible to network restructuring.
These trends have not escaped the attention of governmental of¬cials.
In 1993 the president of the Organization for the Inspection and
Supervision of Production and Distribution of Goods and Services at
the second conference of the Association of Guild Affairs claimed,
˜˜Guilds have been recognized for their reputation (khoshnami) and piety
(diyanat), and people look upon the guilds based on their past per-
spectives and know of merchants the symbol of religiosity and truth-
fulness (dorostkari).™™113 However, the president continued by implicitly

113
Asnaf year 9, special issue (Esfand 1372 [February“March 1993]), 10.
Bazaar transformations 123

pointing out that this standing is in danger of being sullied: ˜˜Therefore,
to maintain this past record (sabeqeh), guild organizations must deal
with wrongdoers (motekhallef).™™ The government of¬cial perceptively
pointed out the connection between past records, reputations, and the
capacity to sanction those who violate norms and agreements. However,
he did not tell his audience how to do this. Without cooperative hier-
archies, the immediate prospects are slim that such assessment and
publicizing of reputations will take place.
Reputation is an important mechanism that provides guidance in
complex settings with multiplicities of social relations and imperfect
information. A person™s reputation is the bundle of facts and signals that
provide information to others, and is used by them to develop expec-
tations about behavior.114 Hence, reputation is an asset and needs to be
acquired and maintained.115 It is the vehicle by which symbols and
behavior, along with ¬rst-and second-hand knowledge of past interac-
tions, coalesce to make the future more predictable. When someone
who is reputable can be expected to behave in ways that honor their
stipulated commitments as well as the norms of behavior, they are
deemed trustworthy. Thus, reputation, trust, and predictability of
behavior are closely interrelated qualities of relations. The Tehran
Bazaar teaches us that for all these to be maintained, relations must be
structured in particular ways that will allow actors to learn the criteria of
evaluation, demonstrate their quali¬cations, and circulate information.
All these factors are important for socialization and for monitoring
actors, and to enforce agreements and norms. Not all networks can be
mechanisms for reputation generation.

Reputation, inequality, and solidarity
Inequality within the Bazaar has always existed. Commentators who
make blanket statements about the Bazaar tend to underestimate the
dramatic disparities in wealth, educational attainment, access to
resources, and means to develop a reputation within the Bazaar.
Importers and exporters, even those who have not been aligned with the
state, control the ¬‚ow of credit and commodities in ways that impose
price systems upon smaller commercial units. Many of the wealthier
bazaaris, moreover, transformed this wealth into more expansive

114
I do not mean to imply that all people have equal opportunity to develop or circulate
the same reputation. Economic and social positions surely limit capacity for reputation
building in the ¬rst place.
115
Ellis Goldberg, Trade, Reputation, and Child Labor in Twentieth Century Egypt (New
York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2004).
124 Bazaar and State in Iran

economic activities and prestigious social standings. These inequalities
existed prior to the Revolution and have persisted today.
Prior to the Revolution, however, the importance of reputation as an
asset meant that all bazaaris, even the biggest importers, who wanted to
continue to trade in the marketplace had to be concerned with the per-
ceptions of those within the community. If word spread that a bazaari
did not keep his word or did not abide by the norms of ¬‚exibility in
transaction, he faced social sanctions that would become economic
sanctions. The diffuse relations not only structured cooperative behavior,
but were the elixir of the sense of loyalty to the Bazaar and solidarity
among its members, through which norms of cooperation and restraint
of myopic self-interest developed among the powerful. Alongside this,
Islamic principles stressing equity and aiding the poor encourage a
culture of charity and modesty. On a daily and multidimensional basis,
these forces limited the potential for abuse of power through reneging on
promises, imposing prices and contracts that were unfair, or culturally
or socially differentiating between classes.
These ameliorating factors that moderated, if not checked, the power
of wealthy and high-status bazaaris have faded as the requirement to
maintain a reputation has waned. The regulatory force of the reputation
system is absent. During the late Pahlavi era, an informal ranked hier-
archy prevailed wherein as individuals violated norms and did not per-
form according to expectations, they fell down the hierarchy of
reputable actors. Jumping ahead to the present context, the threat of
falling down the hierarchy is less credible, since alternative exchange
partners in parallel networks exist who do not have information about
one™s past. Subordinates no longer have the opportunities to use mul-
tilateral methods of sanctioning such as community shaming in order to
gain leverage against superiors. Now, new bazaaris who control large
stocks of goods or sums of credit are less likely to abide by norms that
encourage leniency in dispute resolutions or modesty in dress. Young
wealthy bazaaris openly speak of not ˜˜being able™™ to spend time with
other bazaaris who cannot afford to engage in the same leisure activities.
From these transformations we can discern that ethos a bazaari has lost
its corporate being and normative resonance. Bazaaris sell and buy
within the Bazaar, but this does not imply the same collective identity,
and I am tempted to push the argument further and say collective
responsibility.
On a related point, the experience of the Tehran Bazaar during
the Pahlavi regime shows that cooperation and a sense of community
do not necessarily require absolute or relative equality. While some
theorists believe that equality is a basis for creating conditions for
Bazaar transformations 125

community,116 the evidence from Tehran shows that equality is not a
necessary condition for members of a group to establish feelings of
solidarity or cooperative relations. Rather the reciprocity and self-help
that existed was a product of frequent and multifaceted relations that
instilled norms and provided checks on behavior to make actors repu-
tation sensitive. Once the sites and modalities of social structural
reproduction changed, so did these norms and a sense of solidarity.
Thus, informal institutions of cooperation neither are products of
internalized norms nor out of a necessary drive for ef¬ciency, but
out of a cognitive process engineered by concrete, yet contingent,
relations.

Conclusions
Bazaar outsiders see interpersonal ties and personalism dominating
commercial activities in Iran and conclude that the same decades-old
networks continue today. However, they do not notice that the form of
governance in the Tehran Bazaar is signi¬cantly different. While prior to
the Revolution, individual exchanges were seen as part of a web of
ongoing and multidimensional transactions that helped reduce risk, now
transactions are seen as short-term exchanges with little assurance that
the actors involved will meet again. The postrevolutionary commercial
network is now dependent on agents in the government and black market
who enjoy highly unequal and temporary ties. The state-af¬liated organs
that now control much commercial activity have become unaccountable
superiors in a hierarchy that gives subordinates little opportunity to
sanction and evaluate the performance of these external monopolistic
entities. A retailer selling kitchenware captured the complexity of the
problem facing the Bazaar when he commented, ˜˜In general there is little
trust between people and most only think of themselves instead of each

<<

. 23
( 55 .)



>>