International Development Planning Review 41.2 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Negotiating the order: the politics and policing of street vending in Tehran’ by Mojgan Taheri Tafti as the Featured Article for IDPR 41.2.

The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

In this paper, I have investigated three sites of street vending in Tehran. While most of the literature on street vending has focused on ‘politics of resistance’ and the contestation over public space between street vendors and state bureaucracy, I sought to find out how actors, other than and in addition to these two are involved in policing the sidewalks. For this purpose, I draw from Rancière’s work on the concepts of politics and police.

I explained that in the absence of the state’s full-scale confrontation with street vendors, different patterns of multilayered policing sidewalks emerge. In each site I described distinctive, yet dynamic forms of day-to-day negotiations between a variety of actors, including shopkeepers as a heterogeneous group, organized and unorganized street vendors and low-level state functionaries. These negotiations, characterised by contestation, collaboration or competition between these actors, resulted in street trading being performed, albeit with forms and intensity tolerated by the state and the powerful shopkeepers or organized street vendors who work as the agents of policing the sidewalks.

The cases of female vendors, in particular, was interesting, as in these three busy sidewalks they constituted a small proportion of vendors. While being a heterogeneous group, they primarily worked as individual vendors. Working individually meant that they were easily pushed out of the busy areas. Furthermore, whenever policing the sidewalks was characterised by collaboration between shopkeepers and street vendors, female vendors had little or no part, due to cultural norms. Despite these obstacles, they could marginally benefit from the attitude of the municipal staff towards them, which could be summarized as pity and tolerance. In the light of deep inequalities between vendors, I argue, the literature on ‘politics of resistance’ needs to address more explicitly the differentiated opportunities, practices and experiences of street vendors.

Overall, this research showed that the contestation over public space had more than two sides (state and vendors). In policing the sidewalks many elements came together to create and maintain a socio-spatial regime, including the state at different levels, shopkeepers, street vendors as a heterogeneous group and the general public. Furthermore, as this study showed, Rancière’s conceptualisation of the intertwinement of police and politics in urban life fits well for understanding the conflict over public spaces in the ‘ordinary cities’ of the developing world.