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Document Type

Original Research Article

Abstract

Erving Goffman “was not a sociologist of any particular area” (Scheff 2006: 20). He was, in fact, a sociologist of many areas: the interaction order, stigma, “total institutions,” gender, “forms of talk,” public behaviour – and gambling certainly belongs to the list. He may be better known for these other topics, but his contributions to the sociological analysis of gambling are canonical. Thus, another sociological hat can be worn. A unique, inventive social scientist, Goffman could pull off the donning of many such hats. Bucking the standard presentation of social scientific research in journal articles, Goffman was the “master of the long essay,” a format “ungainly in the social sciences” (Handler 2012: 180; Smith and Jacobsen 2010). “Where the Action Is” (Goffman 1967) is a rich, long essay, manifesting the originality and insight found across his oeuvre. With this essay, Goffman proclaims himself a gambling romantic – situated among those sociologists and social theorists who positively valued gambling activities in the face of the levelling tendencies and utilitarian values of modern society (Walter Benjamin, George Bataille, and Roger Caillois come to mind as well). The positive valuing of gambling is clearly expressed in “Where the Action Is,” prompting Downes et al (1976: 17) to remark on the social scientific significance of the piece that it “lifts gambling out of the moral abyss into which successive generations of commentators and reformers have consigned it and renders possible a consideration of its meaning which is freed from a priori association of a negative kind.”


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