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bazaari, carry many layers of meaning in Persian and in English. It is a
concept that can be used to depict a place, an economy, a way of life,
and a class, and even to embody Iran, the Middle East, or the Islamic
world. This multiplicity of roles and dimensions make bazaars a subject
of architectural, anthropological, economic, sociological, historical, and
political studies that either directly analyze bazaars or use them as an
integral part of their representation of Middle Eastern societies. More-
over, it is one of those epithets, not unlike ˜˜rural™™ or ˜˜provincial,™™
which conjures up ideals and stereotypes that embody both the pristine
and the pejorative. For some, the bazaar and its inhabitants hark back to
a pure and moral life, while others depict it as a bastion of mindless
traditionalism and vulgar mercantilism. Moreover, western travelogues
and popular culture envelop the bazaar™s traditionalism with exoticism
and otherness.
While the bazaar has taken on contradictory meanings and enjoys an
important place in analyses of modern Iranian politics and economics, it
does not always receive critical re¬‚ection. In many major works it
continues to be unde¬ned. Scholars, journalists, as well as the Iranian
public take it as a matter of fact that the bazaar exists like it always has as
a ˜˜meaningful entity.™™3 When we speak of ˜˜the bazaar™™ it is assumed
that we all know where and what it is. Thus, it simply escapes de¬nition
or conceptualization. For instance, Fariba Adelkhah, in her otherwise
nuanced and revisionist work, does not de¬ne the bazaar or bazaari,
terms that frequently appear in her anthropological study of post-
revolutionary urban society.4 Gustav Thaiss in his studies of religion in
the Tehran Bazaar also leaves the bazaar unde¬ned.5 Howard Rotblat™s
thorough description and analysis of the Qazvin Bazaar also does
not clearly specify what constitutes a bazaar. At various stages he
equates it with a ˜˜marketing system,™™ all types of commerce, and
˜˜traditional forms of organization.™™6 Even non-Iran specialists writing
for a general audience sometimes leave the bazaar unde¬ned. In her

˜˜Meaningful entity™™ is a term used by Keddie to describe the Bazaar. Nikki R. Keddie,
Roots of Revolution: An Interpretive History of Modern Iran (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1981), p. 268.
Fariba Adelkhah, Being Modern in Iran, trans. Jonathan Derrick (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2000).
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).
Conceptualizing the bazaar 41

analysis of the Iranian Revolution, Theda Skocpol focuses on the bazaar
as ˜˜the basis of political resistance,™™ but vaguely describes it as a
˜˜socioeconomic world.™™7 The vast majority of our knowledge about
bazaars exists in two forms “ assertions that take on mythic proportions
or broad abstract statements placing bazaars within general theoretical
This chapter presents a brief overview of how bazaars have been
conceptualized. While I will pay particular attention to the literature that
focuses on Iranian bazaars, I will also integrate works on other bazaars
and urban marketplaces in the Middle East and North Africa. Unfor-
tunately, this literature does not constitute a clearly de¬ned historio-
graphic debate with conscious analytical jousting, yet some discernible
strains exist. I begin with a very brief historical sketch of the Tehran
Bazaar and then turn to summarizing the literature on bazaars using a
four fold typology of conceptualizations “ the bazaar as traditional, as
a class, as informal networks, and as a product of informational scarcity.
These four perspectives are not mutually exclusive and many scholars
meld together aspects of more than one approach. This chapter shows
that the existing perspectives on bazaars are limited in that they cannot
fully account for change over time or variation within bazaars, and in
many cases tend to be descriptive accounts labeling rather than ana-
lyzing phenomena. Finally, politics and the state enter the discussion
only when the bazaar mobilizes against the state. Before and after these
events, state policies and institutions are conspicuous by their absence.
I conclude by recasting the bazaar within the general debate over
markets and economies. This conceptualization of the bazaar recalls the
new economic sociology literature that posits embedded networks,
rather than individuals, as the building blocks of economies. Thus,
I de¬ne the bazaar as a bounded space containing a series of socially
embedded networks that are the mechanisms for the exchange of spe-
ci¬c commodities. This conceptualization builds on and integrates the
insights of this diverse empirical literature, engages debates on econo-
mies, and relates the transformation of the Tehran Bazaar to questions
about regime change and state“society relations.

A brief history of the Tehran Bazaar
By the end of the twentieth century Tehran became so sprawling and so
central to Iran™s political and economic life that it is hard to imagine it as

Theda Skocpol, ˜˜Rentier State and Shi™a Islam in the Iranian Revolution,™™ Theory and
Society 11 (May 1982), pp. 271“2.
42 Bazaar and State in Iran

the modest town at the crossroads of the Silk Road and Indian highway;
but that is what it was for much of its history. Tehran was still a sleepy
town even in 1800, when the Qajar dynasty proclaimed it their seat of
their government. Despite its newfound status as the capital, for most of
the nineteenth century, Tehran played second ¬ddle to the more
populous, economically prosperous, and politically vibrant Tabriz and
Isfahan. Up through the 1870s, Tehran consisted of ¬ve compact
quarters; there were three residential districts (˜Awdlajan, Chaleh
Maydan, and Sangelaj), the Arg or the royal citadel, and the Bazaar or
the commercial quarter. The Tehran Bazaar, like most Middle Eastern
marketplaces, was adjacent to the royal and administrative head-
quarters, representing a fusion of palace and marketplace. Gradually,
Tehran™s status as the capital began to bring rewards, and Tehranis,
including members of its Bazaar, bene¬ted from increased security,
capital accumulation, and an internationally recognized political
standing. The city expanded in terms of population and size, and gov-
ernment investments in the Bazaar area helped improve and increase the
number of caravanserais and shops.8
Then, in the ¬rst third of the twentieth century, political events
transformed Iran into a centralized national state with Tehran as the seat
of power. Clerics, bazaaris, and western-oriented intellectuals worked
together to champion the Constitutional Revolution (1905“11) that
sought to limit the powers of the monarchy and introduced the concept
of consultative politics by establishing a parliament. After two decades
of internal turmoil and imperialistic forays by the British and Russians,
the ¬rst Pahlavi monarch, Reza Shah (1925“41), took control of the
monarchy. The rather obscure military of¬cer, whose coup and eventual
crowning received positive reenforcement, if not outright support, from
the British government, rolled back many of the gains achieved by the
constitutionalists and established a centralizing state, with Tehran as the
indisputable political and economic center of an Iran with increasingly
de¬ned borders. Reza Shah™s military rapidly set out to impose the

Histories of Tehran include H. Bahrambeygui, Tehran: An Urban Analysis (Tehran:
Sahab Books Institute, 1977); Shahriyar Adle and Bernard Hourcarde, eds., Tehran
Paytakht-e Devist Saleh (Tehran: Sazman-e Moshavereh-ye Fanni va Mohandesi-ye
Shahr-e Tehran and Anjoman-e Iranshenasi-ye Faranseh, 1375 [1996]); and Naser
Takmil-Homayun, Tarikh-e Ejtema˜i va Farhangi-ye Tehran, vol. 3 (Tehran: Daftar-e
Pazhuheshha-ye Farhangi, 1379 [2000]). For an account of the Tehran Bazaar in the
latter half of the nineteenth century see Mansoureh Ettehadieh (Nezam-Ma¬), ˜˜Baft-e
Ejtema˜i-Eqtesadi-ye Bazar-e Tehran va Mahalleh-ye Bazar, dar Nimeh-ye Dovvom-e
Qarn-e 13 h.q.,™™ in Inja Tehran Ast: Majmu˜eh Maqalat Darbareh-ye Tehran 1269“1344 h.
q., ed. Mansoureh Ettehadieh (Nezam-Ma¬) (Tehran: Nashr-e Tarikh-e Iran, 1377
Conceptualizing the bazaar 43

central government™s authority by settling tribes, quelling separatist
movements, and silencing oppositional groups and ¬gures, such as
republicans, clerics, communists, and Qajar-af¬liated landlords. Simul-
taneously, Tehran ushered in national conscription, a taxation system, a
state-controlled legal system, and state regulation of commercial and
economic activities. The concentration of resources and facilities in
Tehran and the creation of state monopoly ¬rms in the 1930s, along with
the relative decline of other economic centers (notably Isfahan, Tabriz,
and Kashan), helped attract and concentrate commercial and industrial
capital in Tehran.9 The Bazaar that dated back to the seventeenth century
was the logical magnet for economic activities.10
The Tehran Bazaar was, and continues to be, a dense collection of
narrow arteries that make up an area exceeding one square kilometer
and consisting of several kilometers of passageways. It is located in the
exact same location as the Bazaar of the Qajar era. Since the 1930s,
when Tehran™s moat was ¬lled and street planning based on a grid
system was developed, the Bazaar has been clearly demarcated by the
street system that borders it “ 15th of Khordad Street (Buzarjomehri
Street11) on the north, Mawlavi Street on the south, Khayyam on the
west, and Mostafa Khomeini Street (Sirus Street) on the east (Map 2.1).
Tehran™s bazaar is immense, and in 1978 it was said to be the largest
covered shopping area in the world.12
The Tehran Bazaar is in fact an amalgamation of tens of smaller bazaars,
passageways, and caravanserais built between the mid-nineteenth century
and the current era. Each sub-bazaar is typically named for the commodity
that was historically produced and/or sold there (e.g. the Shoemakers™
Bazaar, the Coppersmiths™ Bazaar, or the Kebab sellers™ Bazaar), the
ethnicity, regional background, or religion of the bazaaris (e.g. the
Kuwaitis™ Bazaar, the Armenians™ Caravanserai, the Zoroastrians™ Bazaar,
the Isfahanis™ Bazaar), or the owner or benefactor of the building
(e.g. Hajeb al-Dawleh Timcheh ¬nanced by Hajj Ali Khan Hajeb
al-Dawleh [E˜temad al-Saltaneh] or Amir Sara built by Mirza Taqi Khan
Amir Kabir).

Vahid Nowshirvani, Encyclopaedia Iranica, s.v. ˜˜Commerce in the Pahlavi and Post-
Pahlavi Periods,™™ p. 88.
See Hajj Ladjevardi™s memoir for an account of the expansion of economic activities in
Tehran in the ¬rst half of the twentieth century and how many merchant families
moved to Tehran. Manuchehr Farhang, Zendegi-ye Hajj Sayyed Mahmud Lajevardi
(Lincoln Center, MA: Tahereh Foundation, 1990 [1974]).
Prerevolutionary street names are in parentheses.
Alan D. Urbach and Jurgen Pumpluen, ˜˜Currency Trading in the Bazaar: Iran™s
Amazing Parallel Market,™™ Euromoney (June 1978), 115.
44 Bazaar and State in Iran

Map 2.1 Tehran Bazaar circa 1970
Source: Martin Seger, Teheran: Eine Stadtgeographische Studie (New
York: Springer-Verlag Wien, 1978), p. 98.

Each trade product sold or produced is localized in a particular sub-
section of the Bazaar. The jewelers are housed in the Goldsmiths™
Bazaar in the tributaries near the mouth of the Grand Bazaar, the cloth
sellers are clustered in and around expansive Amir Sara, and those
selling stationery supplies are in Bayn al-Haramayn Bazaar (sometimes
Conceptualizing the bazaar 45

known as the Tinsmiths™ Bazaar). Sometimes related trades were situ-
ated near each other. For example, the Shroud Sellers™ Bazaar used to
be adjacent to the Gravestone Engravers™ Bazaar. Today the Hajeb
al-Dawleh Timcheh brings together all goods related to kitchenware “
china and glassware, cookware, cutlery, thermoses, and electric kitchen
While the Bazaar is spatially ¬xed, its contents have been ¬‚uid over
time. In many cases entire trades have moved within, as well as out of,
the Bazaar.13 For instance, today you will be hard pressed to ¬nd a
shoemaker or seller in the Shoemakers™ Bazaar.14 The Ironmongers™
Bazaar has now become a center for the sale of dried fruits and nuts.
The booksellers, publishers, and binders also have left the Bazaar area.
After ¬rst relocating to the vicinity of the Bazaar, Iran™s main booksellers
and publishers have moved more recently to the area surrounding
Tehran University,15 and over time the booksellers™ old place in the
Bazaar, the Bayn al-Haramayn Bazaar, came to be dominated by sta-
tionery suppliers. Markets, in general, have become more segmented.
This segmentation had the important social and political consequence of
bringing together less heterogeneous groups. Whereas during the ¬rst
half of the century the bookselling sector brought literary ¬gures, pub-
lishers, book retailers, leather sellers, and printers together, today these
groups do not interact in one socioeconomic sphere. Finally, Martin
Seger™s in-depth geographic study of the Tehran Bazaar from the 1970s
found that in general the Tehran Bazaar became a purveyor of more
expensive goods as rents and key money increased.16
As some of the names of these markets attest, the Bazaar was a site for
production and commerce. The decline in artisanal and small-call
manufacturing began with the emergence of industrial manufacturing and
urbanization in the 1930s and its escalation in the post-World War II
era. Many occupations, including metal smithing, shoe production,

On the morphological shifts in the twentieth century see Martin Seger, Teheran: Eine
Stadtgeographische Studie (New York: Springer-Verlag Wien, 1978). There have been
important shifts in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Bazaar. For an account of how the
˜Awdlajan neighborhood went from being a Jewish quarter in the 1950s, to a district
housing immigrants from northern Iran in the 1970s, and more recently to one that
houses Iraqi Shiites who ¬‚ed during the war see ˜Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazeli and
Mohammad-Reza Hafezniya, ˜˜Barresi-ye Tahavvolat-e Ekolozhiki va Zendegi dar
Bakhsh-e Markazi-ye Shahr-e Tehran,™™ Faslnameh-ye Tahqiqat-e Joghra¬yaii 2 (Bahar
1367 [Spring 1988]), 58“76.
However, the shoemakers™ trade association continues to conduct its ˜Ashura meetings
in the segment of the Bazaar called the Shoemakers™ Bazaar.
Sayyed Abolqasem Anjavi-Shirazi, ˜˜Hadis-e Ketab va Ketabforushi az Bazar-e Bayn
al-Haramayn ta ruberu-ye Daneshgah,™™ Adineh 18 (20 Aban 1366 [1987]), 52“6.
Seger, Teheran.
46 Bazaar and State in Iran

and publishing, progressively left the tight quarters of the central Bazaar
and began to move away from the city center to where property values were
less, transportation of heavy and bulky materials was less costly, and space
was available for mass production of goods and large machinery. At ¬rst
workshops moved from the central alleys (qaysariyyehs and dalans) and
took over the residential areas in the southern and eastern regions of the
Bazaar. However, throughout the 1970s and 1980s those workshops and
the remaining residences were converted into warehouses, commercial
of¬ces, and retail shops. In a few cases, the state has stepped in to relocate
trades in order to reduce pollution, but many of these shifts followed urban
and market forces.
The history of a plot of land in the eastern section of the Bazaar
illustrates these transformations. A paper wholesaler remembered that a
shopping center (pasazh17), which he owned, was originally his family
home. He was born during World War II in a house in the northeastern


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