Edited by Thomas Christiansen and Christine Neuhold
Chapter 9: Un-civil Society: The Politics of the ‘Informal People’
† 1 Asef Bayat* INTRODUCTION In the years between 1976 and the early 1990s a series of popular activities took place in Iran’s large cities which did not receive sufficient attention from scholars primarily because they were drowned out by the extraordinary big bang of the Revolution.1 Their importance was dismissed in part because they seemed insignificant when compared with the Revolution, that universal image of social change par excellence, and in part because they seemed to be ordinary practices of everyday life. Indeed, the origin of these activities goes back decades earlier, but it is only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that their political consequences began to surface. Since the 1950s hundreds of thousands of poor families have been part of a long and steady migration from Iran’s villages and small towns to its big cities, some seeking to improve their lives, some simply trying to survive. Many of them settled quietly, individually or more often with their kin members, on unused urban lands or/and cheap purchased plots largely on the margin of urban centres. To escape from dealing with private landlords, unaffordable rent and overcrowding, they put up their shelters in illegally established sites with their own hands or with the help of relatives. Then they began to consolidate their informal settlements by bribing bureaucrats and bringing in urban amenities. By the eve of the Islamic Revolution the number of these communities in Tehran alone had reached 50. The actors had become a counter force, without intending...
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