Inside the Chronicle: Learning by Doing: Franklin Book Programs, Iran, and Consumer Capitalism in the 1960s

This series gives readers an inside look into the scholarly articles that grace the pages of the Princeton University Library Chronicle.

The following is excerpted from the Spring/Summer 2022 issue; Volume LXXIX, No. 1.

Learning by Doing: Franklin Book Programs, Iran, and Consumer Capitalism in the 1960s, by David A. Rahimi

MANY observers of Iran mark the 1950s to 1970s as a period of increased conspicuous, Westernized consumption— often using the colorful pejorative gharbzadegi (westoxification) to describe the situation. Yet the means by which the practices, assumptions, and structures of American-style consumer capitalism actually spread to Iran at this time remain unclear. Many narratives point to increasing trade between the United States and Iran, the appearance of more Western companies, and the crucial military and economic aid packages awarded by the Eisenhower and subsequent administrations as stimulants. Other explanations emphasize the presence of American governmental advisors, sympathetic Westernized Iranian policy planners, and the pro-American Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (r. 1941–1979).

Iranian boy reading educational literature produced by Franklin Book Programs ca. 1973

Iranian boy reading educational literature produced by Franklin Book Programs ca. 1973. Photograph by Kaveh Golestan, Franklin Book Programs Records, box 272.

While important, such macro-level and state-centric approaches fail to explain adequately how ordinary Iranian men and women as well as local businesses, particularly in the private sector, interacted with, adopted, and adapted new consumer ideas and practices. Mass consumer markets and cultures require specific kinds of institutions and structures, ranging from supply and distribution capabilities to conducive legal environments, to take hold and persist. State-centered explanations cannot fully account for the detailed structural changes in the business environment that affected the ability of a mass consumer market to emerge or chart the extent to which it did and did not resemble its American counterpart.

Note: The research for this article was conducted with the support of a Princeton University Library Research Grant. The 2023-2024 grant application period is now open and will close at 12pm EST on January 17, 2023.

About the Princeton University Library Chronicle
The Princeton University Library Chronicle is an interdisciplinary journal sponsored by the Friends of Princeton University Library since 1930. Its mission is to publish articles of scholarly importance and general interest based on research in the collections of the Princeton University Library (PUL). The Chronicle welcomes submissions of articles relating to all facets of the collections. We also welcome articles relating to the history of the University and the Princeton region. The entire archives of the Chronicle (1939-) and its predecessor, Biblia (1930-1938), are available, open-access, full-text on JSTOR.

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Published December 16, 2022.