Gambling Debt

Iceland's Rise and Fall in the Global Economy

by E. Paul DurrenbergerGisli Palsson

"This unique anthropological collection documents Iceland's recent history as an icon of the global crisis—its spectacular rise and precipitous fall, popular uprising and neoliberal restoration. The story is at once shocking and hilarious, a profound lesson for us all, but also a testament to human resilience, not least the authors'."

—Keith Hart, London School of Economics

"This work will turn a theoretical corner away from conventional understandings of economic crises and political economy, into new terrain."

—David Griffith, East Carolina University

"The book is a must read for anyone interested in economics, business, politics, or the worldwide economic stage in general; readers interested in Iceland’s involvement in the crisis and the fallout the country faced as a result will also be intrigued by the book's contents and approach. Taken as a whole, the book is an honest, entertaining, and informative work that explores the changing distribution of wealth and the impact of privatization as well as the historical identity of Iceland and the numerous factors that came together to help produce such an economic meltdown."


"​[​​A]n arresting place-based portrait of the financial crisis of 2008. Editors E. Paul Durrenberger and Gísli Pálsson, both eminent anthropologists of Iceland in their own right, bring together a diverse collection that ranges from economics to anthropology; education to sociology, and even a ​'poetic interlude.​' In doing so they offer a broad view of the crisis, a corrective to narrowly economistic accounts. It is this wide range that makes Gambling Debt so lively, while also knotting (not unproductive) tensions throughout. . . . an important contribution: a multi-faceted analysis of Iceland’s recent financial crash, and a toolkit for social scientists considering crisis writ large. ​[The book's] wide range of topics and perspectives make it accessible and applicable across scholarly fields. But the authors’ shared commitments to the Icelandic context make this volume an effective and convincing political statement of a kind not often achieved in a volume of such breadth."

—Anthropology News

"Gambling Debt is a big study of a small country . . .that shows how scholars of various disciplines can collaborate to shed more light than any single discipline could. The volume is a success and perhaps a call to other scholars to apply interdisciplinary perspectives to the major issues of the day."

—Anthropology Review Database

"[A]n empirically and conceptually rich account of the crisis."

—American Ethnologist

Gambling Debt is a game-changing contribution to the discussion of economic crises and neoliberal financial systems and strategies. Iceland's 2008 financial collapse was the first case in a series of meltdowns, a warning of danger in the global order. This full-scale anthropology of financialization and the economic crisis broadly discusses this momentous bubble and burst and places it in theoretical, anthropological, and global historical context through descriptions of the complex developments leading to it and the larger social and cultural implications and consequences.

Chapters from anthropologists, sociologists, historians, economists, and key local participants focus on the neoliberal policies—mainly the privatization of banks and fishery resources—that concentrated wealth among a select few, skewed the distribution of capital in a way that Iceland had never experienced before, and plunged the country into a full-scale economic crisis. Gambling Debt significantly raises the level of understanding and debate on the issues relevant to financial crises, painting a portrait of the meltdown from many points of view—from bankers to schoolchildren, from fishers in coastal villages to the urban poor and immigrants, and from artists to philosophers and other intellectuals.

This book is for anyone interested in financial troubles and neoliberal politics as well as students and scholars of anthropology, sociology, economics, philosophy, political science, business, and ethics.

Contributors: Vilhjálmur Árnason, Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Jón Gunnar Bernburg, James Carrier, Sigurlína Davídsdóttir, Dimitra Doukas, Níels Einarsson, Einar Mar Gudmundsson, Tinna Grétarsdóttir, Birna Gunnlaugsdóttir, Gudný S. Gudbjörnsdóttir, Pamela Joan Innes, Gudni Th. Jóhannesson, Örn D. Jónsson, Hannes Lárusson, Kristín Loftsdóttir, James Maguire, Már Wolfgang Mixa, Evelyn Pinkerton, Hulda Proppé, James G. Rice, Rögnvaldur J. Sæmundsson, Unnur Dís Skaptadóttir, Margaret Willson

Publication supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

A free PDF download is available for scholars worldwide who might not otherwise have access to this book. Please scroll down to the link under "attachments" at the bottom of this page. Ebook editions for dedicated readers and apps (Kindle, Nook, iBook, Android, etc.) are also available for purchase from your preferred ebook vendor.




  • publisher
    University Press of Colorado
  • publisher place
    Denver, Colorado
  • rights
  • rights holder
    University Press of Colorado