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L-PEG Research Seminar

Neo-Prebendalism and Development Dilemma: A New Theoretical Framework for Understanding the Political Economy of Development Suspension in Iran (1989-2017)

  • Mohammad Sayyadi, University of Tehran
Friday 18 June 2021
Online (link sent to registered participants)


This paper examines the historical and political processes and outcomes surrounding the emergence and transformation of neo-prebendalism in Iran’s political economy between 1989 and 2017. This period encompassed four presidents with distinct, political and economic perceptions, preferences, and policies. While the question of development suspension has remained a preoccupation of some Iranian elites and citizens, they have yet to find a solution to mitigate or reverse this trend. In an effort to address and resolve this issue and in the context of Iran’s political economy, scholars have proffered a variety of theoretical and conceptual approaches. They include transforming institutional, lifestyle, and cognitive structures and practices, as well as introducing and modifying political and socioeconomic policies and interventions. This paper contributes to the extant scholarship by analyzing Iran’s political economy and development suspension through the framework of prebendalism, a term and concept that Max Weber used to explain the ruling castes of India and the bureaucratic system in China.

Similar to venality, prebendalism traditionally refers to the patronage-based and predatory practices of the ruling class in terms of purchasing public offices, securing land rights in exchange for services, and capturing a share of government revenues. By comparison, neo-prebendalism is more complex, developed, and indirect. It is defined as the systematic, institutionalized and legalized allocation of public resources to the private portfolios of plunderer elites. Neo-prebendalism has produced and exacerbated development suspension in Iran by creating and perpetuating a bankocracy, an uncompetitive market society, and selective legal rights. Apart from revealing the mechanisms that have prevented Iran from functioning like a healthy and viable, developmental state, neo-prebendalism explains why the adoption of different policies by successive presidents has yielded similar results and perpetuated or aggravated development suspension

Registration: Please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper.


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