Holistic Gambling Harm Reduction Using Practice Theory


Gambling is an activity that involves betting something of value on a random event with the aim of winning something else of value. The practice can be enjoyed for many reasons; from changing one’s mood to socialising with friends, to the desire to increase wealth. For some, it can be addictive and lead to significant harms including physical health problems, relationships breakdown, poor performance at work or study and even criminal activity.

A growing body of research has documented the negative impacts of gambling on individuals and society, including increased levels of anxiety, depression, stress, substance abuse and debt. Problem gambling can also have serious consequences for families, with some people losing their homes and being evicted because of mounting debts. It is estimated that over half of all UK adults gamble at some time in their lives.

While there is a wealth of gambling research that focuses on individual behaviour and addiction, there is a smaller but growing corpus of studies considering the wider socio-cultural, economic and regulatory contexts that shape such behaviour. Consequently, there is great value in adopting a practice theory perspective in the analysis of gambling.

Practice theory is a framework that explains how complex, embedded behaviours like gambling become habitual and routinised. It identifies five various forces—bodily activities, materials, knowledge and language, norms and discourses, and social structures—that frame a nexus of practices. Holistic harm reduction strategies informed by a practice theory approach should thus seek to acknowledge and alter the availability, form and interactions between all of these elements.

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Cape Town, South Africa