“Monetary Games”, “Big Data” and “Mereological Magic”– Gambling, Speculation and Numerology in an Age of Uncertainty
Convenors: Mario Schmidt and Christoph Lange
Rebecca Cassidy (Goldsmiths University of London),
Olaf Günther (Palacky University, Olomouc),
Anthony Pickles (University of Cambridge),
Johannes Schick (a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities), David Zeytlin (University of Oxford),
Michael Zürn (Social Cognition Center Cologne).
It is not a coincidence that gambling practices are on the rise during times in which economic, social and political uncertainties increase globally (Bonhomme et al. 2012, Copper/Pratten 2014; Buraway/Verdery 1999, Johnson/López-Alves 2007). Betting, gambling and speculating offer hope and equip people with a form of agency whenever other ways of meaningfully influencing one’s future are on the wane (Bergson 2013) – in China (Steinmüller 2011), Greece (Malaby 2003), Oceania (Oceania 84:3), South Africa (Van Wyk 2013), the US (Schüll 2014) and elsewhere. It is thus a sign of anthropology’s closeness to the everyday lives of their interlocutors that the study of gambling is currently blossoming (Cassidy et al. 2013a, Cassidy et al. 2013b). However, the logic (Pickles 2014b), mereology (Schmidt n.d.), numerology, aesthetics (Pickles 2014a), religiosity (Mosko 2014), temporality (Bergson 2013: 146-147), cosmology (Steinmüller 2011, Da Col/Humphrey 2012) and socio-political repercussions (on gender see Cassidy 2013, Pisac 2013, on the political Festa 2007) of specific forms of betting, gambling and speculation differ tremendously between diverse ‘monetary games’ (see Oceania 84:3, Dickerson 1993) and the potential of a comparative study of gambling is still largely unexplored. Gambling and games of chance and luck still await to be studied and linked to other phenomena (Pickles 2014a) by anthropology and the humanities.
As numerical and mereological practices also lie at the heart of (1) attempts to construct and subsequently handle “big data”, i.e. huge quantities of information that scholars of diverse disciplines reflect upon and hope to exploit epistemologically, (2) the current trend to investigate human nature by letting people engage in economic “games” (Henricht et al. 2010) and (3) neo-liberal capitalist forms of investment often denigrated as manifestations of a “casino capitalism” (Cassidy 2009, Strange 1986), a study of alternative forms of theoretically and ethnographically engaging with speculation and gambling might help us to imagine new ways how to design our own economy as well as to understand emerging methods in the social sciences and humanities dealing with “big data”.
As much as many card games, for instance, depend on mereological practices, our economy is based on cutting economic assets and derivatives into parts only to recombine them into new wholes (Appadurai 2012, Zaloom 2013), “big data” is too big not to be somehow split into multiple parts and new wholes and participants in economic games are forced to decide how to split (or not to split) the amount of money they receive. Thus residing at the intersection of monetary, economic, numerical, mereological, social, temporal as well as spatial questions, the different ‘monetary gambling games’ are – although often sidelined, despised or even outlawed by society (Presterudstuen 2014), and by anthropologists and other social scientists themselves (Goffman 1967, Geertz 1973) – true ‘total social phenomena’ that can help us re-thinking our own epistemological and economic practices (see Holbraad 2007, Pickles 2014b).