Wheels and tiles: Maintaining social connections through Mah-Jong and Roulette gambling in Manchester


This thesis focuses on Chinese gamblers in Manchester. It compares mah-jong and roulette play and relates these different forms of gambling to wider experiences, including those of migration and settlement. The thesis is based on extended ethnographic fieldwork with Hakka or Cantonese speaking regular gamblers in Manchester who have migrated from Hong Kong, Si Yi or other places in Canton Province in China via chain migration. They largely make their living by working in Chinese ethnic enterprises, especially the catering trade. Lineage networks are commonly cherished by these migrants. The thesis argues that, among Manchester’s Chinese community, gambling contributes to the construction of new relationships and the maintenance of existing lineage and locality networks. This thesis compares mah-jong and roulette in response to the hypothesis that commercial gambling is less fully ‘social’ than domestic gambling. My data suggests that despite the tendency to view traditional games as somehow intrinsically more generative, the social aspects of commercial gambling are also important for Chinese gamblers in Manchester. This ethnography demonstrates how anthropologists can contribute to studies of gambling by producing detailed and in-depth understandings of gamblers’ experiences which may not be captured by other, more quantitative research methods, including questionnaires and surveys. This allows us to ask more complex questions about gambling, and to relate them to wider social processes including migration and settlement. As a result we are better able to 4 understand the role of gambling in particular communities, rather than assume that it is the same everywhere, for everyone and for the same reasons.

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