Social Practice Theory and Gambling


Gambling involves placing something of value on an event that is random in nature with the hope of winning another thing of value. A number of people, about 2% of adults, meet the criteria for gambling disorder and are likely to experience problems with their behaviour as a result. These problems can range from financial difficulties and debt to family conflict, unemployment and homelessness. While the vast majority of gambling is conducted at a local level, online gambling has emerged as a significant global market. In the United States alone, it is estimated that there are now more than a million registered gambling sites.

While there is no ‘cure’ for gambling addiction, there are a number of things that can be done to help with the problem. Some of the most effective strategies include talking about your gambling with someone else who knows about it (a trusted friend, family member or professional counsellor), reducing your risk factors by not carrying credit cards and only using money that you have allocated to gambling, finding other recreational activities and hobbies that you enjoy, getting support from friends and family, and attending a self-help group such as Gamblers Anonymous.

Taking up new hobbies and activities can also help you get back into a positive mindset, which is often needed to break the cycle of gambling addiction. It is also important to reduce the temptation by avoiding places where you can gamble and by staying away from your phone or computer if you are feeling an urge to gamble. Lastly, never use your emergency funds for gambling.

Social practice theory offers a useful approach to understanding how complex, embedded and routinised behaviours such as gambling can be. It draws attention to how a whole nexus of practices, including bodies and mental activities, materials, knowledge, language and discourse, spaces and places, norms, power and individual/group agency are performed in order to make gambling a habitual and routinised activity.

A key benefit of this perspective is that it moves beyond approaches that focus on individual personality traits, behavioural addictions and the brain. This is because it recognises that the social and economic forces that shape a culture of gambling are much more than just psychological and behavioural, and that these shapes have been reinforced by a series of largely invisible practices and cultural processes. In doing so, it can open up the way for research to explore critical and normative perspectives on gambling, in addition to exploring ideas aligned with both. This includes an analysis of the neoliberal infused political economy of gambling that can be seen through processes such as globalisation, liberalisation and marketisation, alongside the way in which these neoliberal influences work with and against individual personalities to suffuse a nexus of gambling practices. This is an exciting direction for gambling research.