Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Many in Luang Prabang, Laos, treat “gambling for money” and “gambling for beer” as moral economic types. They use these types to do and cite moral and economic things: to organize stakes in games, to interpret, judge, and alter other’s intentions and aims, and to take stances on good and bad sociality in generic form. Anthropologists have long studied similar types—gifts and commodities, sharing and giving, kula and gimwali. Some have treated these categories as ‘local models,’ and others have aimed to disassemble the categories and look beyond them toward practice. In this paper, I argue that close attention to beer and money gambling shows that it is the polyfunctionality of moral economic types––their multiple capacities as tools for both undertaking and understanding semiotic practice––that has made them so difficult to pin down and so useful for anthropologists and locals alike. Crucial in regard to these functions is the distinction between generic and specific uses and the double problem of trying both to define types abstractly and to identify them explicitly.