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¬‚ow through the bazaar are, for the most part, highly divisible, extre-
mely various consumption items that are unstandardized, of mixed
224 Bazaar and State in Iran

provenance, and very hard to evaluate.™™69 For Geertz this economic fact
is the basis for the bazaar™s economic institutions, such as its clienteli-
zation. Fanselow rearticulates this argument by placing the onus for the
structural outcome squarely on the qualities of commodities and not on
the ontology of the Bazaar.70 In cases where information regarding the
quality or quantity of a good is scarce or limited to sellers, there will be a
tendency toward more embedded relations among exchange partners in
order to gain access to trustworthy information. Thus, long-term rela-
tions based on socially embedded ties and evaluations of reputations
through mutual acquaintances are critical, and all are components of
cooperative hierarchies. The theory predicts that trades with more
standardized goods will be less specialized, will be less spatially loca-
lized, and will have less need to resort to clientelization, but there will be
more prospects for entry into the sector and more opportunity for
buyers to canvas the market for new suppliers and better prices.
The sectoral analysis of the Tehran Bazaar exhibits these expected
variations. In all these sectors highly reputable guild elders and brokers
have become less prominent, and therefore fewer crosscutting relations
exist. Also, the demise of the shared life of bazaaris has also limited the
existence of weak ties across the Bazaar. Regardless of the sector, it is
more dif¬cult to trust potential exchange partners, and all bazaaris
mentioned problems related to bounced checks and increased incidence
of fraud. However, the lack of trust, or more precisely the decline in
means to evaluate the trustworthiness of fellow bazaaris, is especially
acute in the case of markets for nonstandard commodities. In the tea
market, where standardization is handled by international standards
applied by auction houses, packaged tea, and the NTO, a large number
of commodity-based transaction costs are reduced by formal institu-
tions. However, in the carpet bazaar standardization is far more dif¬cult
and not trusting a carpet seller also means not trusting the quality of his
carpets. Thus, exchange relations are longer term and more multi-
faceted than in the other guilds. Consignment and heavy use of brokers,
furthermore, is still a means for sellers to spread the transaction costs of
marketing. These networks, however, are isolated from one another.
Carpet merchants enjoy fewer ties and hence less capacity to search the
Bazaar for information and new exchange partners. Consequently two
recent trends are discernible in the carpet business, which can be
interpreted as attempts to guard against these marketing restrictions.

Geertz, ˜˜Suq: The Bazaar Economy in Sefrou,™™ p. 214.
Frank Fanselow, ˜˜The Bazaar Economy or How Bizarre Is the Bazaar Really?™™ Man 25
(June 1990), 250“65.
Carpets, tea, and teacups 225

The segmentation in exchange partners where old-time trading partners
exchange with one another and avoid newcomers has become a norm
that forges strong ties to ensure greater security. Second, carpet import“
exporters are now beginning to invest in production. Integration of
production and marketing requires large sums of capital, but reduces the
need to deal with middlemen, and thus reduces the costs of transactions
in a competitive market.71 These recent developments are all means that
shelter merchants from the decline of cooperative hierarchies, but also
further encourage the development of less multifaceted and crosscutting
relations across the carpet bazaar.
At the other end of the spectrum, in the china and glassware sector,
buyers face lower information costs since goods are standard. In this
market for manufactured goods, the characteristics of commodities are
guaranteed by trademarks and quanti¬able measurements. Merchants
guard against potential defaults by using cash and legally enforced
checks and money orders. But given that they are trading standard
goods, china and glassware merchants are less concerned with the
quality and quantity of the goods than they are about price. Thus, the
shift from cooperative to coercive hierarchies has a less destabilizing
effect on their capacity to transact. By illustrating these variations within
the Tehran Bazaar, I reiterate and reinforce the basic argument put forth
by both Fanselow and Geertz that the particular commercial institutions
and practices found in marketplaces in the developing world are a
product of the nature of the goods exchanged rather than the culture
and beliefs of individual traders or communities, even if these practices
color and are re¬‚ected in norms and expectations.
Commodity type and form of governance seem to have at least two
mutually reinforcing relationships. First, bazaars for more standardized
goods tend more readily to shift to coercive hierarchies. Second, a shift
from cooperative to coercive hierarchies encourages commercial actors
to devise new means to compensate for transaction costs associated with
nonstandard goods. Taken together, commodity types in¬‚uence the
institutional and physical setting of networks.

State regulation
Another reading of the analysis presented in Chapter 4 may be that the
shift in the form of governance is simply a product of state intervention
and increased regulation under the Islamic Republic. Thus, the expla-
nation of change in the form of governance can be reduced to the

Fligstein, ˜˜Markets as Politics,™™ 659.
226 Bazaar and State in Iran

existence of state regulation. The argument would state that it was the
Pahlavi regime™s benign neglect that allowed cooperative hierarchies to
blossom, and the Islamic Republic™s attempt to regulate that resulted in
a shift to coercive hiearchies. The case of the tea sector thwarts this
analysis. Both regimes played an active role in regulating trade and
sought to protect local producers. The particular institutions used to
regulate this trade were the decisive factor, rather than the mere exis-
tence of them. Under the earlier trade regime, state policies and net-
works complemented one another; yet, more recently, commercial
networks have come to rival one another and seek to replace the state™s
bureaucracy, which is quite weak in Weberian terms. Also, given that
many carpet merchants are calling not so much for a retreat of the state
from the carpet sector as for a redirection of its energies from production
to international marketing, it seems that more research is needed to
assess the constitutive parts of state regulation and its impact on com-
In conclusion, these sub-bazaars present a more concrete description
of the transformation of the Tehran Bazaar from cooperative to coercive
hierarchies. They remind us that just as the state is not an undiffer-
entiated entity, the Bazaar too is composed of speci¬c institutions,
actors, and practices. The dynamics of the china and glassware sector
was shaped by the emergence of domestic production and the nature of
standard goods, which that have lower transaction costs and thus make
the transition to coercive hierarchies more manageable. The tea bazaar
shows the importance of speci¬c state institutions in patterning com-
mercial relations and the bazaaris™ access to the domestic production
process and world market. The one necessary modi¬cation to the
transition story was in the case of the carpet sector, where its networks
continue to have some of the qualities of cooperative hierarchies “
relations are still often long term and embedded in social and familial
bonds. However, the crosscutting relations that ensured weak ties
and the ¬‚ow of information throughout the Bazaar have declined,
compelling them to acquire characteristics that are similar to coercive
In addition, the case studies specify the twin variables of institutional
setting and location of networks and their relation to the two regimes™
transformative projects. Under the Pahlavi monarchy™s high modernist
development project, investments and state focus were concentrated on
heavy industry and consumer durables, leaving the carpet production and
china and glassware sectors open to market forces and the Bazaar™s
marketing systems. Tea, however, which was earmarked as a basic agri-
cultural sector, was regulated by the state. The Islamic Republic™s
Carpets, tea, and teacups 227

development planning has been less focused on particular sectors; rather
it has mixed populist policies to subsidize urban consumption while
distributing import rights and subsidized hard currency as patronage.
This has had perverse consequences for the carpet and tea industries, but
the narrative of the china and glassware sector suggests that consumer
nondurables may have been encouraged by import restrictions. In addi-
tion, these speci¬c narratives demonstrate that delocalization of networks
has involved the creation of new domestic centers in Tehran (i.e. carpet
warehouses in Tehran™s periphery and china and glassware wholesalers in
Shush) and new international, or more accurately transnational, locales
that are attached to international capital, rather than national sovereignty.
Finally, this chapter suggests that a long-term underlying factor in redu-
cing the viability of cooperative hierarchies is the prevalence of standar-
dized goods. Thus, manufacturing and industrialization, which have long
been shown to impact the relationships between labor and capital, also
reshape relations within the commercial sphere.
6 Networks of mobilization under two regimes

Under the Shah, the bazaar could wreck the regime if it decided to close down
for three days. But . . . the bazaar is not the bazaar any more, it™s just a
name, a symbol.
Carpet seller, Tehran Bazaar, February 20001

I had recently arrived in Tehran to conduct exploratory research for my
dissertation. It was July 1999, a time when the students at Tehran
University were in the midst of challenging the judiciary for banning
Salam, a leading independent newspaper that called for political
reforms. As the Persian expression goes, ˜˜The university was sholugh,™™
meaning that there was political dissent and disorder. Tehran was in the
throes of the largest political protests since the revolution that had swept
aside the Shah. The pro-reformist protests had spread to campuses in
Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, and other cities. With President Mohammad
Khatami having recently defeated the candidate believed to be the
regime insider in a surprising landslide victory, supporters of the newly
forming reformist platform were hopeful and energized. For supporters
of reform the mass protests only boosted their expectations; for bene-
¬ciaries of the status quo, the students™ vociferous daring was horrifying.
When I went to buy groceries, the corner grocer, who liked to chat
about the newspaper headlines, smiled and beckoned me over. Knowing
that I visited the Bazaar, he asked, ˜˜So you go to the Bazaar. Tell me, is
the Bazaar sholugh?™™ I answered that it was not, and we were both
This chapter re¬‚ects on the reason for the corner grocer™s question,
and the implications of my answer. It argues that the forms of govern-
ance within groups are foundational to their political mobilization.
Bazaaris historically have translated their commercial centrality into
political contestation. Given that Iran™s monarchical rule was a highly
exclusionary polity without a system of interest representation or
deliberation and with impediments to accessing the centers of political

Agence France Presse, February 14, 2000.

Networks of mobilization under two regimes 229

power, mass protest in the forms of civil disobedience and the public
airing of grievances were the only means to challenge state policies.
Bazaaris have prominently participated in almost every major social
movement in the past century. Beginning with their opposition to the
tobacco capitulations in 1890, the members of the bazaar have joined
other segments of society to call for political reforms, defend their
economic interests and political rights, and advocate ideological posi-
tions. During these episodes, the marketplaces, which are centrally
located in almost all Iranian cities, have been converted into political
fora and fulcrums directing grievances into dissent and mobilization.
Bazaaris have helped to organize demonstrations and mass strikes, fund
the political initiatives of other actors (teachers, workers, and seminar-
ians), and distribute information within and beyond the commercial
classes. In the words of one of the leading historians of modern Iran,
Nikki Keddie, ˜˜Despite the modernization of Iran, the bazaar remained
a focal point of major political opposition movements from 1891
through 1979. This was partly due to the ease of organizing craft and
religious circles that in time of crisis took on an increasingly political
Hence, this ¬nal chapter asks how was the Bazaar able to organize
collective action within its own ranks? How did it do so with such
apparent ease? And ¬nally, what has become of this capacity to mobilize
in the postrevolutionary era? Or in the unstated words of the grocer, ˜˜If
historically it was able to create ˜political dissent and disorder,™ what is
preventing it from doing so now?™
By capacity to mobilize I am referring to the ˜˜organizational readiness™™
or ability of a group to coordinate actions and mobilize resources
(¬nancial, symbolic, and membership) in order for individuals to pursue
some collective good despite existing socioeconomic differences and
political cleavages.3 I contend that the Tehran Bazaar™s active participa-
tion in social movements stems from its particular socioeconomic orga-
nization. Speci¬cally, by showing that this capacity has declined in recent
years, I argue that given their interest in making claims against the state,
political opportunities to do so, and ideological frames, cooperative
hierarchies are more effective than coercive hierarchies in taking advan-
tage of structural opportunities and at mobilizing groups, their resources,

Nikki R. Keddie, Roots of Revolution: An Interpretive History of Modern Iran (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1981), p. 245.
Doug McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930“1970,
2nd edn. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 40“8; and Sidney Tarrow,
Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action and Politics (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1994), chapter 8.
230 Bazaar and State in Iran

and frames. Thus, the shift in form of governance had an eviscerating
effect on the Bazaar™s potency, and therefore helps explain the relative
decline in the Tehran Bazaar™s mobilization against the state in the cur-
rent period when, despite having political and economic grievances and
being presented with opportunities to ally themselves with other social
groups, the bazaaris appear increasingly incapable of articulating their
interests and bringing the bazaar™s members to the fore. Therefore, not all
networks are conducive to social mobilization. Instead, we must pay attention
to their speci¬c form. I make this argument by comparing instances of
bazaari mobilization and nonmobilization across the past half century and
by illustrating the precise mechanisms in the forms of governance that
facilitate or hinder these outcomes.
This chapter ¬rst introduces the most comman conceptual lens used
to understand bazaar activism, namely the mosque“bazaar alliance.
Next I brie¬‚y summarize the major social movements of the twentieth
century, focusing on the role of the Tehran Bazaar in these events and
the shortcomings of the literature™s prevailing view, which reduces
bazaari collective action to clerical mobilization and religious motiva-
tion. The chapter goes on to engage the interest-based approaches to
bazaari mobilization by extending their analysis to the postrevolutionary
era. Building on my earlier analysis of bazaars as collections of networks,
I unpack how forms of governance generate solidarity and mobilization.
This argument is evaluated against the postrevolutionary experience to
ponder the decline of the Bazaar™s capacity to mobilize in the
postrevolutionary era. It should be noted that the discussions of these
various social movements are far from comprehensive and are not


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