Accepted paper:

The gambling trap: losing it in Papua New Guinea

Authors:

Anthony Pickles (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

To gamble in the Papua New Guinea Highlands is to trap other players into a technologically-mediated confrontation in which their socio-cosmic capabilities (wealth, skills, relationships, magic, and nourishment) cannot match your own. This upsets the ‘gambling as disease’ model.

Paper long abstract:

If art can enchant the mind, gambling hypnotises it. In the Papua New Guinea Highlands this once exogenous practice is conceived as dangerously captivating. Wives ambush their husbands as they leave work on payday lest they pass a slot machine joint or a game of cards. The cards house diverts energies from the enterprise needed to realise 'development.' Gardens remain unplanted, school fees unpaid. Gambling is a source of fast money and a spur to communal sharing in a way that is problematically unfocused. This paper explores gambling as a socio-centric trap that condenses transactive space-time through a technological vortex of entrancingly idealised and miniaturised social relations. Through games that accelerate transactions in distinct but always attractive ways, gambling becomes a foil by which canny individuals, businesses and the state extract value from the unfortunate, the unskilled and the inebriated. I argue that by framing gambling in terms of trapping, rather than addiction or greed, one can usefully move gambling discourse away from the Protestantism-derived illogical activity model which results in gambling as a sociological problem to be explained, and towards an appreciation of alternative, ethnographically derived socio-cosmic models of causality and fortune. To gamble in the Papua New Guinea Highlands therefore becomes an attempt to trap other players into a technologically-mediated confrontation in which their socio-cosmic capabilities (wealth, skills, relationships, magic, and nourishment) cannot match your own.

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Anthropological traps