Political Gambling: Uncertainty, Prediction and the Biggest Game of All

Jan 2022 – Dec 2022

Project status: Current

Funded by: Independent Social Research Foundation

Exploiting emergent technologies, the gambling industry has moved aggressively into decaying high streets, onto our personal devices and into politics. This project pioneers the qualitative study of political gambling and the resulting ‘prediction markets,’ where ideological beliefs, historical trends and national moods are all condensed down to prices, blunting political difference. Ultimately, political gambling preys upon sincere engagement, undermining politics when we need it most: in a time of existential crisis. The project ethnographically researches the market-makers, bookies, bloggers, academics, political analysts, punters and arbitragers as they co-construct expertise in political prediction markets around volatile currents of opinion, interests and insider knowledge. It uncovers why gambling on politics is surging and how market speculation refracts political understanding. The first to immerse myself ethnographically in political betting markets, I will participate in information circuits, attend industry events, conduct surveys and in-depth interviews, collect life- histories, follow bets by professional and problem gamblers, and deliberate with political junkies. Participant observation will happen on-the-ground, over the internet, and in academic fora—where the ‘efficiency’ of prediction markets is hotly debated.

Political Gambling vivisects 21st Century politics by synergizing critical gambling studies, anthropology, political science, and economics. The hypothesis: an upsurge in political betting during our snowballing ecological, democratic, health and economic crises enacts a profound collective anxiety about our fragile future, and the drive to profit from fear.

The project realizes ISRF goals by tackling the urgent problem of political disengagement, revealing how the gambling industry turns meaningful political difference into a horse race. It brings novel qualitative methods to an established quantitative field by combining traditional and digital ethnographic methods, political analysis and an anthropology of experts. Finally, Political Gambling will produce high quality academic outputs and a unique series of expert-driven podcasts about the politics, dynamics, and pitfalls of political gambling.

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