Goffman Revisited: Action and Character in the Era of Legalized Gambling

Jim Cosgrave


The expansion of legalized gambling opportunities in North America and elsewhere has proceeded rapidly since the early 1990s, and the current ubiquity of gambling has renewed interest in the sociological and cultural analysis of the activity. Erving Goffman’s concepts of “action “ and “character,” discussed in Where the Action Is, and other aspects of his oeuvre, provide resources for interrogating the present legalized gambling environment and the micro-social aspects of gambling activities and identities. The latter are addressed through Goffman’s contribution to the sociological understanding of processes of normalization and the social classification of selves. His analyses of stigma, moral career, labeling processes, and the institutional shaping of selves (e.g., Asylums (1961)) are drawn upon as resources for understanding gambling identities and stigmas as sociological-dramaturgical phenomena. Goffman’s work is related to the changing institutional basis of gambling activities, and to broader social organizational changes that have been accounted for through the concepts of consumption and risk.

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International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory | ISSN : 1916-2782