. 8
( 55 .)


and Bandar Charak). I interviewed merchants and locals involved in
legal and quasi-legal trade between the free trade zones and Iran. Next, I
spent a week in the Hamburg free port, where a large concentration of
hand-woven carpet trade houses is located. I conducted a dozen inter-
views with carpet merchants who had experience in the Tehran Bazaar
or worked with relatives and partners there. Finally, to hear the views of
government of¬cials and associations related to commerce, I inter-
viewed several of¬cials who are, or were, members of the Chamber of
Commerce, Ministry of Commerce, Association of Guild Affairs,
Organization of Planning and Budget, Central Bank, Tea Organization,
trade associations, and Islamic associations in the Bazaar.

Participant Observation
Another component of my data collection was participant observation,
or direct and prolonged observation. My particular variant of participant
observation can be described as passive participant observation. I did
not fully participate in the lives of bazaaris, in the sense that I did not
live with a bazaari family during my research trip, nor did I work inside
the Bazaar, nor am I a ˜˜native™™ bazaari. Nevertheless, during my time in
Tehran, I spent three to ¬ve days a week in the Bazaar. A large portion
of this time involved gleaning information indirectly by ˜˜soaking and
poking.™™ I spent hours in the Bazaar consciously observing and con-
versing with bazaaris about all types of issues, many of which did not
directly pertain to my research questions.
My participant observation took several forms. While I was in the
Bazaar™s stores and of¬ces, I observed how bazaaris interacted with
colleagues (competitors, suppliers, and buyers), customers, apprentices,
friends that I brought to the Bazaar, and me. These interactions were
useful because they allowed for open and interactive discussions. Having
lunches with bazaaris, either at restaurants or in their of¬ces, proved to
be a friendly and more relaxed forum for conversations about various
issues not always raised in the structured interviews. To remind me of
the importance of meals, one bazaari mentioned, ˜˜we [bazaaris] are of
The puzzle of the Tehran Bazaar under two regimes 35

the stomach as well as of the bazaar.™™ In addition, commuting with
bazaaris to the Bazaar both in the express bazaar buses (autobus-e vizhe)
and the shared cabs was an important way to engage with bazaaris.
Since I traveled to and from the Bazaar at peak travel hours, the buses
and shared cabs were full of bazaaris (the Bazaar is in the restricted
traf¬c zone and many bazaaris do not drive to work; rather they either
take public transportation or cabs to the Bazaar).66 In Iran, public
transport often is transformed into a public space for anonymous
venting “ men and women use it as a forum to complain about the
economy, discuss the day™s headlines, or simply share the latest news
about the price of the dollar or a kilo of chicken. The cabs and buses to
and from the Bazaar were no different and on several occasions my cab
rides turned into discussions with businessmen about Iran™s political
economy. My note taking, newspaper reading,67 or perusing of material
on the Bazaar at times fueled the conversation. On two occasions, I
conducted interviews on the express bus after bazaaris noticed that I was
reading material that they found interesting or noticed that I was busily
jotting down notes. Finally, on a few occasions, I participated in extra-
bazaar activities with bazaaris in their homes and at social gatherings.
For instance, I went to the Tehran Bazaar for the religious gatherings
commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hosayn (tasu˜a and ˜ashura).
Participant observation played an important role in developing and
substantiating my arguments. First, participant observation is a useful
method of understanding how actions are patterned “ that is, the
structure of activities. Mitchell Duneier comments that because most
life is structured, ˜˜this is why investigators . . . sometimes can learn
about a social world . . . despite the fact we occupy social positions quite
distinct from the persons we write about.™™68 Repeatedly observing the
ways in which bazaaris relate to different people in various contexts was
an excellent means to uncover the organization and relational founda-
tions of the Bazaar.69

With the opening of the metro and the station at the Bazaar in 2002 this dynamic has
changed. When I was in Tehran in 2003 and 2005, I noticed that commute times were
dramatically reduced, but the large, crowded, and more public metro and metro
stations also seemed to reduce discussion.
I was in Iran during a time when a number of independent and politically critical
newspapers were being published. It was quite common for passengers to read
newspapers in the shared cabs, discuss the latest topics, and, at times, let one another
read the front-page headlines and articles. These newspapers were a useful excuse to
start conversations.
Mitchell Duneier, Sidewalk (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999), p. 338.
Richard F. Fenno Jr., ˜˜Observation, Context, and Sequence in the Study of Politics,™™
American Political Science Review 80 (March 1986), 3“15.
36 Bazaar and State in Iran

A critical virtue of participant observation is that it allows researchers
to learn the frames of reference and expressions of its subjects. Parti-
cipating in open-ended informal conversations and overhearing dis-
cussions between bazaaris were important ways for me to learn how to
pose my research questions in terms that were more intelligible to my
interlocutors. The extended research time allowed me to ¬ne-tune my
questions and gave me multiple opportunities to pose the same question
to the same person. Similarly, listening to conversations among bazaaris
and having repeated interactions with the same subjects helped me to
grasp what issues and critical episodes were important to bazaaris. Also,
as I learned the speech pattern and jargon of bazaaris, I began to pose
my questions in their own terms. Hence, I was viewed as a more legit-
imate researcher “ one who may not be an ˜˜insider,™™ but who was
informed. For instance, during my ¬rst research trip I distinguished the
stores in the Bazaar from those in the newer parts of Tehran by referring
to the latter as the ˜˜new stores™™ (maghazeha-ye jadid). This term con-
fused my interviewees. It was only after spending time in the Bazaar that
I learned that the bazaaris differentiate these two groups by referring to
them as bazaaris and khiyabanis (the adjectival form of street, or
Khiyaban). As I began to use the Bazaar™s terminology and their
expressions, bazaaris noted that I was becoming vared (literally meaning
˜˜entered™™), implying that I was becoming knowledgeable.70 The
modicum of legitimacy that this ˜˜knowledge™™ afforded me more infor-
mative and in-depth discussions.
Third, participant observation is a useful means to con¬rm that
actions are compatible with the statements of interviewees. For instance,
one bazaari mentioned to me that he did not buy goods from smugglers.
Then one day as I passed his store I noticed that he was accepting a
delivery from one of these dealers. When I asked him what had led him
to purchase these goods, he acknowledged that he sometimes turned to
these sources to replenish his inventory. Finally, my conversations with
bazaaris during those months were an opportunity for me to solicit
critiques of my ideas and have them engage with my hypotheses. Many
of the ideas in this book were presented in their nascent form to bazaaris
and evolved after our conversations about them.
I have relied heavily on participant observation, referred to a number
of anthropological studies of bazaars and marketplaces, and used
interpretive methods to conceptualize and identify group boundaries.

On a couple of occasions, trying to become vared was problematic because subjects
wondered why I cared so much about the Bazaar. I was asked whether this information
was being collected for the tax collectors or the CIA.
The puzzle of the Tehran Bazaar under two regimes 37

But this work differs signi¬cantly from more orthodox ethnographies.
Unlike most ethnographies, culture (as symbolic structures or meta-
narratives that give meaning to actions) and subjectivities are not the
focus of this study. Although changes in norms and expectations play a
role in demonstrating the shift from cooperative to coercive hierarchies,
my main concern is with how goods and services are traded, how state“
bazaar relations are patterned, and how members of the Bazaar are able
to mobilize to make claims against the state.
Also, the purpose is not ˜˜to give a voice to the native™™; this may be a
consequence, but it is not an objective as is often the case in ethno-
graphies. Moreover, because ethnographies are based on the narratives
of people, they tend to highlight contingencies of particular lives. Actors
describe events in their lives as peculiar to their life stories. In his study
of book and magazine vendors in New York™s West Village, Duneier
describes how subjects tend to see themselves as if ˜˜they are authors of
their lives.™™71 He cautions against reproducing the overly agency-driven
narratives, and he himself judiciously weaves and highlights structural-
level transformations into the personal narratives. To balance this ten-
dency toward isolating events and characters, I have related speci¬cs of
life stories to broader patterns of change, such as regime change,
urbanization, and demographic shifts. At the same time an overly
determined view of structural change is problematic, because we must
have evidence of how large-scale structural forces are determinative in
actual lives. Participant observation and interviewing identify concrete
rami¬cations of these meta-level adjustments. The combination of dif-
ferent structural forces, resistance to them, and methods of negotiating
new terrains trigger unplanned results. I make a concerted effort to place
the internal operation of the Bazaar in the larger political economy by
what I term a double embedding of actions “ embedding “ actions in
networks and embedding networks in political economies.

Primary and secondary texts
As a complement to these primary sources, I devoted a portion of my
research time to comprehensively reviewing the secondary sources
(primarily in English and Persian) and reading pre- and postrevolu-
tionary daily newspapers and popular and academic journals. Among
this type of textual analysis, Asnaf (Guilds), the internal publication of
the Society of Guild Affairs of Distributors and Service Sectors of
Tehran, provided valuable insights into internal debates and views
during the 1990s. These secondary sources and historical accounts were
Duneier, Sidewalk.
38 Bazaar and State in Iran

critical for verifying and contextualizing the oral histories that bazaaris
told me. In addition, I consulted relevant interviews from the Iran Oral
History Project at Harvard University. This unique collection focuses on
elites and political history, yet it shed light on certain issues regarding
the Pahlavi regime™s approach to development and its relations with
commercial associations. To construct the analysis of the Bazaar before
the Revolution and check facts from my interviews, I turned to two
unpublished ethnographic dissertations from the early 1970s. Gustav
Thaiss, an anthropologist who conducted ¬eld research in 1967“9,
studies the religious practices and symbolism in the Tehran Bazaar.72
Howard Rotblat spent 1968“70 in Iran conducting research on the
Qazvin Bazaar to investigate the changes and continuities in this pro-
vincial bazaar (Qazvin is 100 km from Tehran).73 Despite the differ-
ences between my research questions and those of Thaiss and Rotblat,
these two works contain rich glimpses into the prerevolutionary socio-
economic structure of bazaars, which I have extensively used in my
description of the 1963“79 phase and have juxtaposed with my ¬ndings
thirty years after their ¬eld research.74 While in Iran, I also browsed the
archives of dissertations and theses at Tehran University.75 These dis-
sertations were used both for factual information and as historical
sources to gain insights into how the Bazaar has been depicted in the
past few decades. These theses varied in focus and quality; however, as a
collection they were quite informative. Gathering information from
government sources proved dif¬cult because public sources are scarce
and often only general overviews of topics based on aggregate data.
Nonetheless, several researchers in government-af¬liated institutes
kindly shared their research and provided important information.
Finally, a number of of¬cial publications of trade and guild associations
were reviewed.

Gustav Thaiss, ˜˜Religious Symbolism and Social Change: The Drama Husain,™™
Ph.D. dissertation, Washington University (1973).
Howard J. Rotblat, ˜˜Stability and Change in an Iranian Provincial Bazaar,™™ Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Chicago (1972).
Narges Erami, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia
University who is conducting research on the carpet producers in the Qom Bazaar, has
kindly discussed her research ¬ndings with me in order to check and compare our
¬ndings on the contemporary situation in Iranian bazaars.
I consulted theses from the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Fine Arts at
Tehran University and Shahid Beheshti University (National University). Notably, I
was not able to ¬nd a single thesis on bazaars at Tehran University™s Faculty of Law and
Political Science.
2 Conceptualizing the bazaar

A complete victory of society will always produce some sort of ˜˜communistic
¬ction,™™ whose outstanding political characteristic is that it is indeed ruled by
an ˜˜invisible hand,™™ namely by nobody.1
Hannah Arendt

Hajj Ahmad is a gruff middle-aged man with an appearance be¬tting a
stereotypical bazaari “ portly with an unshaven full visage, pudgy hands
emblazoned with bulky carnelian rings, and a well-worn set of prayer
beads constantly in motion. His head and eyebrow gestures were
expressive, and his measured words betrayed his Azeri roots. I met him
at an early stage in my research on the Tehran Bazaar during the
summer of 1999. A carpet seller who dabbled both in production and
export, he was quite willing to share his experiences and opinions. Over
several cups of tea and cigarettes, he patiently and quite enthusiastically
answered my questions about the carpet trade, all the while keeping a
watchful eye on the happenings in the caravanserai. Since he was from a
long line of carpet dealers centered in the Tehran and the Tabriz
bazaars, I turned our conversation to the practices and life in the Tehran
Bazaar. Immediately, however, our roles as interviewer and interviewee
were reversed. Hajj Ahmad matter-of-factly asked, ˜˜What do you mean
by the Bazaar?™™ I quickly responded by explaining that I meant this
marketplace and not the broader abstract notion of the market.2 Still
unsatis¬ed he said that he understood that, and asked me whether I was
referring to the building, the people in the Bazaar, the practices, or
something else. Hajj Ahmad was well aware that the Bazaar is simul-
taneously innocuous and elusive. This chapter is an attempt to
demystify the notion of bazaar and locate its guiding characteristics “ a
series of attributes that take us beyond ˜˜communistic ¬ctions™™ and

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958),
pp. 44“5.
Like ˜˜market™™ in English, ˜˜bazaar™™ in Persian refers to both the physical place where
exchange takes place and the abstract and metaphysical notion of ˜˜the market.™™

40 Bazaar and State in Iran

˜˜invisible hands,™™ and identify concrete relations as the producers of
economic exchange and communal sensibilities.
˜˜Bazaar™™ is a loaded and dense term. It and its adjectival form,


. 8
( 55 .)