Accepted Paper:

Iranian merchants' business strategies between Iran and Hamburg: a historical ethnography  


Sonja Moghaddari (University of Bern)

Paper short abstract:

Hamburg hosts one of the oldest Iranian migrant communities dating back to the late 19th century. In a diachronic perspective, this paper examines how Iranian merchants manage transnational capital resources to strive for success through changing political and economic conditions.

Paper long abstract:

The city of Hamburg hosts several important Iran-related commercial institutions, such as the European-Iranian bank of commerce. Not only the close economic relations between Germany and Iran account for this fact, but also the longstanding commercial activities of Iranian merchants whose migration to Hamburg dates back to the late 19th century. This paper is concerned with the transnational business strategies through which Iranian entrepreneurs have been able to establish and maintain an important position in international trade with Iran. In particular, it aims to point out how they keep up transnational business activities between Hamburg and Iran throughout shifting political and economic conditions. Building on Aihwa Ong's recast of Bourdieu's conception of capital to the study of transnational migration, the paper complements her thoughts with an ethnographic examination that focuses on Iranian entrepreneurs' professional strategies in situations of political and economic change.

Based on archival research and oral history alongside classical ethnography, two case studies situated between the 1960s and today show how the Iranian entrepreneurs' management of transnational capital resources is influenced by, and engages with historically built systems of global inequality. Identifying the limits to upward social mobility the businessmen experience, the paper shows how the entrepreneurs keep up their businesses thanks to the flexible combination of capital resources in several transnational social fields. The chance and the challenge of changing conditions lay in the shift in symbolic classifications that facilitate or limit the migrants' efforts for upward social mobility.

Panel P076
The Future of the Anthropology and Anthropologists of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia (The Anthropology of the Middle East and Central Eurasia Network)