Deep plays: A comparative ethnography of gambling contests in two post-colonies

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21 Scopus citations


Clifford Geertz famously argued that careful ethnographic study of a society's games of chance can generate insight into that society's history, structure and culture. Adopting and extending the technique of the 'ethnographic revisit', the author compares his own ethnographic data on the organization of casino card games in contemporary South Africa to Geertz's study of the Balinese cockfight. Three differences are delineated regarding the position of gambling as an institutionalized practice within the larger social matrix; the organization of the individual games; and the subjectivities produced through participation in the contests. These differences, it is argued, derive from divergent trajectories of post-colonial 'governmentality' in Indonesia and South Africa. The Indonesian state continued a colonial-era ban on gambling. As a result, cockfighting remained embedded in local village life as a vehicle for expressing both traditional status honor and resistance to central authority. In contrast, the South African state reversed colonial prohibition by sanctioning corporate casinos. Social and political dimensions of gambling are here subsumed within an economic framework of action and understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-33
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Casino
  • Cockfight
  • Comparative ethnography
  • Gambling
  • Geertz
  • Indonesia
  • Post-colonialism
  • Risk
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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