The attraction of gambling: game of chance or explainable social phenomenon. This essay will argue that the application of the sociological imagination enables understanding of gambling amongst woman in New Zealand. The sociological imagination, as elucidated by C. Wright Mills (1959), is explained in its context of ‘private troubles/public issues’. Links between history, demonstrated by change in gambling methods, structure, as in the ‘feminization’ of gambling outlets and autobiography, the link between poverty and gambling concluding, that the sociological imagination is a useful tool to understanding this phenomenon.
C. Wright Mills (1959) in his work the Sociological Imagination states that “it enables it’s possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of it’s meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals”. P.7. Giddens (1997) describes the sociological imagination as “the application of imaginative thought to the asking and answering of sociological questions. P.595 and that it is a threefold exercise of the imagination, which involves “an historical, an anthropological, and a critical sensitivity.” Giddens (1982, p.16). Willis (1995) adds a fourth dimension that of ‘structure’. p44. Thus a sociological explanation of a particular social phenomena, involves considering these four aspects.
A clear understanding of the changes in the society that experiences the social phenomenon is required. An historical awareness helps us to understand new developments in society and is essential to analysis of social issues. The anthropological component of the sociological imagination involves looking at, the beliefs, values, conventions and customs of the society that experiences the social issue. Cultural differences at an intersocietal level are important in explaining how different societies develop. The historical and anthropological components are to be considered along side the structural and critical elements. The sociologist seeks to find how society is organized as a whole that would explain the phenomenon they are observing. Willis (1995) states that “the sensitivity to critique is to ask questions about what else is possible and not assume that the current social organization of society is somehow ordained or the only one possible, P83. The understanding of the history of gambling provides a starting point to understanding the social phenomenon of gambling among women in New Zealand
Gambling has a long history dating back to early Greek and Roman society. However in New Zealand over the last two decades it’s perception in our society has changed from one of a male dominated activity with negative moral associations to one that has become a normal part of our daily life and thus acquiring a more positive moral conception in our society.
With the advent of Lotto outlets in supermarkets, shopping malls and gaming machines in public bars and casinos, gambling has become a respectable leisure time activity that is carried out along side the weekly grocery shopping. Thus women are able to easily participate in gambling and the social acceptability of it is reinforced in New Zealand society with advertising of profits going to charity and the community. This has not been the case historically.
Colonial settlement in New Zealand developed a society that was particularly gender segregated. “The liquor licensing and gambling laws were a legacy of the suffrage movement, which, having failed to achieve prohibition, has sought to segregate women from participating in any aspect of the culture of drinking and gambling. Drinking and gambling were successfully corralled into the male-only preserves of the pub and the TAB,” Bunkle (2002, p.1). The woman’s place was clearly in the home and The Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement’s ideology, “had a profound effect in shaping the conception of women and the pattern of sex segregation in twentieth century New Zealand” Bunkle (1980, p.54).
Therefore, making public bars and casinos an acceptable place for woman to enter, especially on their own, the moral rules have had to be bent. Consequently, in publics bars, gaming machines are located in alcoves or a room separate from the public space thereby feminizing the area. The machines act as chaperones by providing and invisible boundary of a ‘no-go’ area from the unwanted attention of males, thus women are able to claim a legitimate space within the male-defined arena of pubs. Kiata (2002, p.189).
Bunkle (2002) states “that since the chance of winning has nothing to do with skill, machine gambling is equally available to all players; the machines do not discriminate between people. A woman can choose to be a player without qualifying as ‘attractive’. Since no skill is required, participation does not depend on physical, mental or linguistic capabilities or gender.” P.4. There are no class barriers to participation therefore including those who are otherwise socially excluded.
Bunkle (2002) goes on to explain that “this behavioural change has everything to do with the normalization of gambling. Gambling has become, so accessible that it gives a false message about safety.” P.5. This is the question for the future, with Lotto scratchies and daily Keno at the supermarket the message is that there is no danger; it is just part of shopping. Children, the gamblers of the future are being given the message that this is a harmless safe activity.
Bunkle continues by describing what she feels is a “driver” that clearly links gambling with poverty which she calls “addicted to hope” Bunkle (2002, p.5). She asks that “if female-headed households are the poorest group in this society then we don’t have to look very hard to find out why the budget advice services want to give people enough left over to buy their ‘lucky dip.'” Bunkle (2002, p.5).
In conclusion, it has been shown that links between history, demonstrated by change in gambling methods, structure, as in the ‘feminization’ of gambling outlets and autobiography, the link between poverty and gambling, brings with it an understanding of the sociological phenomena of gambling among women in New Zealand and has demonstrated the sociological imagination in action