By this point in 2001 I had spent almost a year in Iran collecting information about the Tehran Bazaar for my dissertation. While libraries, government ministries, and interviews with academics and researchers were fruitful, my conversations with merchants, shopkeepers, and other denizens of Tehran’s marketplace had become essential for my project. The interviews and time spent interacting with and observing the members of the bazaar focused my attention on the practices and patterns of social relations that have made the bazaar a politically potent, economically central, and socially symbolic institution and space. This mode of research is based on dialogue and exchange – questions and answers, comments and corrections, referrals and follow-ups, reflections and reassessments – that often contained an element of the unscripted and unexpected. My “sources” not only answered my questions, but also espoused theories, preferred to talk about current events, responded with questions of their own, sought my opinion and
advice, restated or misinterpreted my queries, and sometimes even talked so much that I couldn’t turn to matters of my concern. At times I sat down to ask how commercial laws influenced Persian rug exports, but instead I found myself explaining why Al Gore did not win the US presidential elections despite winning the popular vote (this was the topic garnering global headline news at the time), or listening to someone complain that his son didn’t spend enough time studying for his college entrance exams, or rationalizing why neither my sister nor I were married.