Dissertation Abstracts

Pyramid Schemes, Casinos, and Poker: Money and Morality in Contemporary Romania

Author: Istrate, Andrada M., andrada.istrate@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: University of Bucharest, Romania
Supervisor: Lazar Vlasceanu
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: Romanian

Keywords: gambling , pyramid schemes , morality , money
Areas of Research: Economy and Society , Historical and Comparative Sociology , Risk and Uncertainty


By focusing on gambling - pyramid schemes, casino games, and poker playing – I examine the way new notions of person and value, work and leisure, order and uncertainty, risk and hope are produced and circulated in post-socialist Romania.

My research interest is broad, as I operate with a flexible definition of gambling: everything that is discursively framed as a game and supposes risking something of value for the promise of gain, usually in the form of money. In particular, I refer to distinctions such as game and play, work and leisure, financial speculation and fraud. Therefore, the population I draw on is very diverse: Caritas and other pyramid schemes from the 1990s, casinos, sports betting parlors, as well as economic entities and business practices for which the metaphor of the game is not just a figure of speech, but an explanatory model.

Through ethnographic inquiry (direct observation, in-depth interviews, and case studies) and analysis of secondary sources (archives and media information), I explore three instances of gambling practices in contemporary Romania: Caritas, casinos, and poker playing each associated with a particular time frame. Animated by the larger theoretical assumption that money and the circulation of money are not abstract constructs, but powerful agents of social and cultural transformation (Simmel 1978/1990, Parry and Bloch 1989, Robbins and Akin 1999), I investigate the way gamblers circulate and deal with money and well as the meanings and moralities assigned to it in each of these instances. Though not precisely gambling in the strict sense of the word, I treat these three instances as pertaining to a larger gambling ecology. Overall, I argue that gambling in contemporary Romania engages a variety of social and institutional actors, bringing to the fore a regime of value continually redefined and refashioned since 1989.