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Random Riches - Roberto GARVÍA

What can sociologists say about gambling?

Buying a lottery ticket is tantamount to buying an economic asset with negative value. It is for this reason that lottery play has traditionally defied neoclassical economic theory. Both classical economics and Sociology (e.g. Pareto and Marx) have also regarded playing the lottery as an irrational behavior. More recently, lottery play has sometimes been explained by sociologists as a sort of safety valve which helps individuals to cope with the demands of a capitalist economy. Strain or Frustration theories, however, do not explain why also the better–off play the lottery.


In this contribution I explore a different sociological approach originating in economic sociology to explain lottery behavior: the social networks, or embeddedness approach. This approach can illuminate the extent to which lottery tickets cease to be considered as purely economic assets to become symbolic carriers of interpersonal ties that elicit status and social positions. Although this way of looking at lotteries is not exhaustive I will try to demonstrate that a social network approach can illustrate historical cross-national variations in lottery play. I will also provide recent survey data which show the explanatory power of social networks in today’s lottery consumption in Spain.

Roberto GARVÍA
is professor of Sociology at the University Carlos III, Madrid. He published several studies on lottery markets in a comparative perspective, such as “Loterías. Un estudio desde la nueva sociología económica”.