Statistics, scapegoats and social control: a critique of problem gambling prevalence research

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Young, M 2013, 'Statistics, scapegoats and social control: a critique of problem gambling prevalence research', Addiction Research and Theory, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 1-11.

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In this essay I examine the relationship between commercial gambling, framed as one example of global capitalist development, and the ways in which western societies respond to the social harms this activity produces. As a starting point, I historically locate a concern with risky gambling as a manifestation of the societal desire to categorise and control statistically deviant populations. I then critically examine the pathological gambler category and the prevalence surveys that have proliferated in recent times to define and populate it. Even on their own terms, these studies are seriously flawed, yet surprisingly tend to go unchallenged. This apparent contradiction may be explained by interpreting prevalence studies as a necessary precondition for the reproduction of the gambling industries. Prevalence studies serve as an epistemological device for the perpetuation of social categories that, through the transfer of risk from producers to consumers, allow for the reproduction of the gambling industries both discursively and economically. In their place, I propose a broader research agenda that challenges the conceptual and policy space explicitly and implicitly circumscribed by prevalence research. I conclude with a reflexive call for a re-evaluation of the role of the academy within this system – one that is increasingly fraught with political expediency and moral jeopardy.

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