Toward a Political Sociology of Blockchain

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Jones, Kristopher
Political Sociology , Sociology , Actor-Network Theory , Risk Society Theory , Prefigurative Politics , Technology , Blockchain , Hacker Ethic , Free and Open Source Software Development , Alterglobalization , Anarchism , Bitcoin , Ethereum , Cryptocurrency , Capitalism , Crypto-Economics , Digital Ethnography , Ethnography , Ideology , Individual Liberty , Libertarianism , Liberalism , Meritocracy , Universal Basic Income
This thesis project was intended to take an exploratory look at blockchain technology using an interdisciplinary social lens. Drawing on a variety of sources, including Actor-Network Theory, multiplicity, prefigurative politics, Marx’s early writings on technology, and ideological aspects of both hacker culture and free and open source software development, a complex but useful theoretical framework is proposed. Using a multiple methodological approach combining digital ethnography, semi-structured interviews, and content analysis, social aspects of the blockchain space are explored and an initial first description of demographics and characteristics of the blockchain community is proposed. The thesis finds that the utilization of blockchain technology is playing out in many ways, and there are widely varying positions taken from different groups on development and essential technological characteristics as well as potential motivations. The blockchain area is rapidly evolving, and interest from institutions has been growing. Given the potential prefigurative attributes of the space, there is the potential for institutional and capitalist interests to co-opt and integrate within the space, but this could stand to fundamentally change the uses of the technology. The thesis concludes that it is absolutely imperative that social scientists begin to think seriously about this technological development and its social characteristics and implications prior to widespread and institutional adoption. tl;dr All aboard the blockchain social theory hype train.
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