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Random Riches - Gerda REITH

Pathological Gambling in an ‘Age of Chance’

This paper traces the development of ideas about gambling and the emergence of the ‘pathological gambler’ as a distinct social phenomenon during the 20th and 21st centuries. It argues that modern medicalised discourses of problem gambling articulate some of the inherent tensions within consumer societies. Although historically gambling was criticised for undermining the ethic of production, today the notion of problem gambling is expressed in terms of a ‘consumption ethic’ based on the values of self-actualization, responsibility and reason. This is related to wider socio-economic trends in which external regulation is replaced with an emphasis on internal self-control that is carried out through appropriate types of consumption. In the case of gambling, the recent deregulation and liberalization of western markets, together with an emphasis on individual player responsibility, expresses the tensions inherent in late modern consumer capitalism, and creates the conditions for the emergence of the pathological gambler as a unique historical figure.

This paper will explore these issues, and will focus in particular on the relationship between gambling, pathology, consumption and socio-economic structures.

is Professor of Sociology at the University of Glasgow. In “The Age of Chance. Gambling in Western Culture” she explores gambling in the context of conceptions of an increasingly insecure world.