Gambling; or, The art of exploiting chance to nullify it

Roberte Hamayon


For Lévy-Bruhl, “primitive mentality” can shed light on the “passion” that drives the casino player, gambler, or financial speculator to continue at the risk of losing everything. He draws a parallel between the divinatory practices of “primitive” peoples to reconcile the “invisible forces” that are supposed to decide the outcome, on the one hand, and on the other, the various methods used by gamblers and speculators to “exert a kind of mysterious influence” on the “imponderables” on which success depends. I argue that, although Lévy-Bruhl remarks that everyone seeks to defy chance, he does not define the notion but gradually replaces it with the concepts of “fate,” “fortune,” and “magic.” Anthropology needs to question this set of notions and their family resemblances.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709668