Time and temporality: The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

In our June newsletter, we asked our researchers to write short pieces reflecting on time and temporality as locating regimes, within their own fieldworks. Here is Patricia Scalco writing on the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is narratively constituted as a concrete expression of the city’s historical role as a connective hub. The carpet sellers of the Bazaar stand as guardians of critical spatio-temporal thresholds. When sellers, customers, expectations and (im)possibilities meet, complex processes of translation and conversion take place.

The carpet sellers collaborating in my research operate on multiple registers of space and temporalities when engaging with customers. In my effort to ethnographically capture those registers, I attempt to tune in on the pulse of the Bazaar’s activities.

During my visits to the Bazaar, I have identified several observable/sensorial cues. These include the dynamics around the opening and closing hours at different weekdays and times of year; the process of waiting for tourists; the time-flow of interactions between sellers and buyers; and the pace of support activities, such as the tea and coffee that circulate between stores, slowing down or speeding up interactions between buyers and sellers, indicating the approach of a deal or easing parties into confirmation that a deal will not take place.

The contextualization of these everyday activities vis-à-vis the sellers’ personal concerns, combined with events that potentially impact routines within the Bazaar, provide insight on how notions of rhythm, pace and tempo cast light on (dis)connections, hierarchies and precarities within the business.

They also inform how processes beyond the confines of the Bazaar - such as the crisis in Syria - echo the potential forces that compete, obstruct or enable (dis)connections constituting the Bazaar as (s)pace. The Bazaar stands as a complex location where multiple paths, interests and hierarchies converge. Through material, discursive and performativity strategies the carpet seller operates a complex system of resignification of spatio-temporal (dis)connections.

Through engagement with potential customers, the carpet seller embraces the task of mending gaps through a ‘hermeneutical duty’: a recurrent interpretative/meaning-making task which transforms an ordinary economic transaction into one enabling the (re)production of the Bazaar as a spatio-temporal crossroad.

In the carpet selling business, various notions of time come together in the process of constituting value. Remarks about the centuries-old walls of the Bazaar may figure as praise or critique to justifications for haggling. Carpets are evaluated in terms of the time it may have taken to weave a given piece. If a carpet is laboriously hand-made by a patient weaver inhabiting a remote area, its economic and social value may increase for some - and decrease for others. A carpet woven in a distant past but intact in present day will also be distinctly praised.

These examples stand for particular ways of acknowledging and employing notions of time in the process of locating the Bazaar in spatio-temporal contexts. In this regard, the value of the carpets and the relevance of the Bazaar are constituted through constant reappraisal and reinterpretation of value by the selective mending, fixing or (dis)connecting of multiple (s)paces, rhythms and temporalities.