Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

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Gambling – a productive craft?

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During my ramblings around small Dalmatian towns this summer, I discovered a curious scene. In Jelsa, a quiet place on the Croatian island of Hvar, I visited the church of St. John. A small, stone building sheltered among the cobbled streets of the town, the size of this church makes it look more like a doll house than an imposing place of worship. Inside, there was yet another surprise.

productive crafts in St. John's church on the island of Hvar

productive crafts in St. John’s church on the island of Hvar

The crucifix was adorned with objects symbolising various crafts traditionally used in an agricultural village: a dress for clothes-makers, a hammer, pliers, nails and a ladder for all sorts of building work, a hand for working on a land, a milk jug, a fishing rod and a bundle of wheat for producing food, wine (for good time but also for barter), a blooded sword for fighting the enemy, a cockerel (that can symbolise many things, such as self-awareness or fertility), and lastly – dice. The Catholic church has quite a strong opinion against gambling. So how did the dice end up in this tiny stone place of worship? But seeing them hanging off the crucifix was curious in other ways. Did they really symbolise gambling? If so, how was gambling juxtaposed to other productive types of work, those necessary for people’s daily sustenance? Was gambling imagined only as pleasure and fun or could it have multiple social functions, just like wine was used to get merry but also to barter for other necessities? Was someone trying to say that gambling practices – in which people manage chance and risk in various ways – can also be productive: of various social relations and ideas of how resources can be and are distributed in a community. These are the the ideas that our ‘Gambling in Europe’ project explores….


Written by Andrea Pisac

August 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Posted in News

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