Gambling, Capitalism and the State: Towards a New Dialectic of the Risk Society?

Martin Young

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


In this article I explore the relationships between commercial gambling and late capitalism. In particular, I am interested in the societal forces that produce gambling as a contemporary form of consumption, which I define as the state-sanctioned commodification of chance.As a theoretical entry point, I employ the typology of games devised by French sociologist Roger Caillois in his 1961 volume Man, Play, Games. Specifically, I develop Caillois's distinction between competitive or agônistic games (the ancient Greek word meaning contest or challenge) and those based on chance or alea (the ancient Greek for playing at a game of chance of any kind). I extend these categories beyond a concern with the individual game to explore the tensions between the increasingly aleatory trends of the risk society, the agônistic forces of gambling production (i.e. the state and industry) and the aleatory nature of individual consumption. I argue that the expansion of gambling products is due to the state's own position as aleatory subject within late capitalism. I suggest that the concern with the risk minimization of the risk society and the massive expansion of alea through gambling are dialectically related. In other words, the risk society produces a corollary - a demand for risk - in the production of alea.This contradiction is resolved through the consumption of alea as a form of controllable, bounded, and individualized risk, one that is able to be consumed free of the broader global anxieties of the risk society. Finally, I argue that aleatory consumption itself opens up the possibility of a series of misrecognitions between production and consumption, ones that, in combination with the ideology of chance, conceal the agônistic realm of production by enabling consumers to adopt individualized orientations towards consumption. Copyright
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-273
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Gambling, Capitalism and the State: Towards a New Dialectic of the Risk Society?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this