The Anthropology of Online Poker: A Research Plan

Last week I posted about my future project concerning the culture of online poker, and promised to tell more about my plans. So, here is a summary of my research plan.

I'm interested in four themes of online poker culture, and the hegemonic discourses within it. The themes are 1. the players, 2. the advertising, 3. the counterforces and, finally (not really a theme) 4. a holistic ethnography.

1. The players of online poker
In studying the players I am interested in to what extent the players feel unity with other members of the online poker community and how they uphold this unity. Moreover, I am interested on how the players negotiate their playing to fit their personal historical narrative. I assume the players form a subculture that has to be adapted to each one's personal microculture. On the other hand, the players have to negotiate the status and the position of the game in the wider system of cultural meaning. How exactly this happens is something I'm going to find out.

To study the players I will interview 10 to 20 Finnish poker players, pros and amateurs. In addition to interviews about the meaning of online poker, I will practice participant observation which, in this limited sense, will mean observing players at their gaming interface and asking them to explain the flow of the game and the significances they see in the process.

2. Online poker advertising
The online poker ads seem to appeal to masculinity, sexuality, excitement and the promise of luxury. My purpose is to analyze the hegemonic discourse in advertising and reconstruct the image of an authentic poker-player in that discourse. For this I will go through various poker sites and magazines.

3. Counterforces of online poker
Online poker has evoked a lot of resistance in the media. Especially the well-being of young players is often worried after. It seems like it is characteristic to the resistance to represent players as in jeopardy and constantly on the verge of personal devastation. Thus, I want to analyze the discussion about online poker and find out about the rhetoric and the discursive means the opponents of online poker use to strengthen their arguments.

4. Holistic ethnography of online poker.
Finally, I will attempt a holistic ethnography which means a descriptive account of different infra- and superstructural elements of online poker culture/society. For this I will draw on the results of the previous three themes as well as the popular and academic literature and websites on the subject. Briefly put, I will try to write a straight and informative general description of online poker culture.

If you have anything to comment or suggest
feel absolutely free to post a comment or email me!

Pic sources: Bronislaw Malinowski here, poker table here.


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