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The Role of Practice Theory in Gambling

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Gambling is the act of placing something of value on a random event that has an uncertain outcome. People gamble for money, goods, or services. The most common gambling activity is placing a bet on a sporting event or game of chance. Other examples include scratchcards, fruit machines, and betting with friends. People also gamble for fun, to relieve boredom, or for the excitement of winning big. Regardless of the reason, gambling can have serious consequences for individuals and families.

While a lot of research on gambling focuses on examining individual psychology and behaviour, there is a growing corpus of socio-cultural approaches to the phenomenon. One of these is practice theory, a framework that recognises the complex, entwined realities of how human behaviour becomes habitual and routinised. It emphasises the interplay between different social elements such as spaces and places, language and discourse, rituals, power and agency.

Applying a practice theory perspective to gambling offers a way to move beyond neoliberal-infused critical scholarship that often dismisses the legitimacy of gambling as an established global industry and consumer behaviour. It also offers a platform for researching how the practices of gambling are nested within broader social practice bundles such as those associated with drinking, eating, or watching sport. It could explore how these practices are shaped by broader societal trends such as globalisation, liberalisation, and marketisation, and how they align with general understandings of status, success, and Western modernity.

Practice theory would also allow for more sophisticated work on the dynamics of gambling, such as considering how these behaviours are influenced by the relationships between friends and family members. Existing studies have pointed to the role that power hierarchies in friendship groups play in shaping expectations around when, where, how much, and how to bet. Taking a practice theory approach would provide scope to investigate how these dynamics are influenced by changing social structures, such as those related to neoliberalism, globalisation, and the proliferation of online gambling.

If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, it’s important to seek help. The first step is acknowledging that there’s a problem, which can be difficult, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money or strained your relationships. But don’t despair – there are many organisations that can help you get back on track, including support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. In addition, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you change your thinking patterns to reduce the urge to gamble and learn healthier ways of coping. Ultimately, though, the biggest challenge is for the person with a gambling addiction to make the decision to change his or her behaviour. This will require a great deal of strength and courage, particularly if he or she has been through a long period of losing. In that case, the best option is to join a support group to get through the tough times and to start rebuilding healthy, fulfilling relationships. A therapist can help you do this by exploring your motivation to gamble and how it may have changed over time.

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