Good Gambling: Meaning and Moral Economy in Late-Socialist Laos

Show simple item record Zuckerman, Charles 2018-06-07T17:47:38Z NO_RESTRICTION 2018-06-07T17:47:38Z 2018 2018
dc.description.abstract Anthropologists have long pointed out the intensity with which people sort economic practices into moralized types based on the practices’ purported aims such as gift-giving, ‘deep play,’ and guanxi. Yet more than a century after Malinowski first pitched his tent in the Trobriand Islands and some nine decades after Mauss proposed his theory of the gift, we still know little about how people invoke these types in interaction and why they find them so compelling. In this dissertation, I explore the moral and pragmatic life of economic types in Luang Prabang, Laos and challenge the epistemological life of similar types in anthropology. I argue that understanding moral economy is fundamentally a semiotic problem. That is, moral economic types can only be understood if we study the communicative acts in which they are made manifest. With close attention to these acts, I show that any answer to the classic ethical question of ‘How one should live’ (Williams 2006) is inevitably entangled with another question: ‘How is one living?’ In Laos, since the 1975 socialist revolution, typifying economic conduct has been a national project. As the late-socialist state adopts once-banned forms of economy, it reframes these practices using the moral categories of its socialist past: the lottery has become ‘pro-development,’ capitalistic business has become a vehicle for the eventual attainment of ‘socialism,’ and gambling, in certain forms, has become ‘good.’ Although I touch on a broad range of empirical economic and social practices—theft at a funeral, lottery buying and selling, paying for food at a bar—I focus empirically on conduct that seems to blur moral types of economy and combine conflicting aims and logics, like generosity and greed, friendship and estrangement, socialism and capitalism. Most centrally, I reflect on the moral and pragmatic dimensions of a contrast that gamblers on the French colonial game called pétanque make between ‘gambling for money’ (lin5 kin3 ngen2) and ‘gambling for beer’ (lin5 kin3 bia3). Using materials from more than fifteen months of fieldwork in the rapidly developing city of Luang Prabang, I disentangle the variety of reflexive forms people use to invoke these moral economic types, including implicit and explicit typifications of conduct as well as generic propositions about the types as kinds. I show that close attention to these forms reveals their allure and multifunctional utility: they are not just conceptual categories for reflecting on the world but also clusters of semiotic resources people use to make ethical and pragmatic claims about others as well as themselves. While anthropologists have been wary of ‘ideal types’ in recent years because they ‘distort’ practice, I show that by attending to the heterogeneous ways people use types, we can better understand the reflexive dimensions of ‘ordinary ethics’ and the methodological and epistemological muddles that arise when scholars try to disentangle communication from action.
dc.language.iso en_US
dc.subject Linguistic Anthropology
dc.subject Ethics
dc.subject Moral Economy
dc.subject Laos
dc.subject Face-to-Face Interaction
dc.subject Gambling
dc.title Good Gambling: Meaning and Moral Economy in Late-Socialist Laos
dc.type Thesis en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreename PHD
dc.description.thesisdegreediscipline Anthropology
dc.description.thesisdegreegrantor University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies
dc.contributor.committeemember Lempert, Michael Paul
dc.contributor.committeemember Railton, Peter A
dc.contributor.committeemember Enfield, Nick
dc.contributor.committeemember Irvine, Judith T
dc.contributor.committeemember Keane, Webb
dc.contributor.committeemember Lemon, Alaina M
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel Anthropology and Archaeology
dc.subject.hlbtoplevel Social Sciences
dc.identifier.orcid 0000-0002-4101-3428 Zuckerman, Charles; 0000-0002-4101-3428 en_US
dc.owningcollname Dissertations and Theses (Ph.D. and Master's)
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