The pattern changes changes : gambling value in Highland Papua New Guinea
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This thesis explores the part gambling plays in an urban setting in Highland Papua New Guinea. Gambling did not exist in (what is now) Goroka Town before European contact, nor Papua New Guinea more broadly, but when I conducted fieldwork in 2009-2010 it was an inescapable part of everyday life. One card game proliferated into a multitude of games for different situations and participants, and was supplemented with slot machines, sports betting, darts, and bingo and lottery games. One could well imagine gambling becoming popular in societies new to it, especially coming on the back of money, wage-work and towns. Yet the popularity of gambling in the region is surprising to social scientists because the peoples now so enamoured by gambling are famous for their love of competitively giving things away, not competing for them. Gambling spread while gifting remained a central part of the way people did transactions. This thesis resists juxtaposing gifting and selfish acquisition. It shows how their opposition is false; that gambling is instead a new analytic technique for manipulating the value of gifts and acquisitions alike, through the medium of money. Too often gambling takes a familiar form in analyses: as the sharp end of capitalism, or the benign, chance-led redistributor of wealth in egalitarian societies. The thesis builds an ethnographic understanding of gambling, and uses it to interrogate theories of gambling, money, and Melanesian anthropology. In so doing, the thesis speaks to a trend in Melanesian anthropology to debate whether monetisation and urbanisation has brought about a radical split in peoples’ understandings of the world. Dealing with some of the most starkly ‘modern’ material I find a process of inclusive indigenous materialism that consumes the old and the new alike, turning them into a model for action in a dynamic money-led world.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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