The Socio-Technological Lives of Bitcoin

Theory, Culture, and Society, 36(4), 49–72. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276419826218
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In this essay, I argue that cryptocurrencies and blockchains are important objects of general social science research and thought, but not for their ‘moneyness’ per se. Through a historical sociology of the antecedents and discourse leading up to Bitcoin, I show that it was never meant to be ‘money’ in the economic sense, but rather a solution to a technical puzzle for preventing opportunistic actors from double-spending digital ‘coins,’ as well as a fervent ideology surrounding online privacy and infringement of individual rights in the digital age. Drawing from themes in science and technology studies, I suggest that Bitcoin and other ‘cryptoassets’ are properly socio-technological assemblages that constitute new and important objects of social inquiry that must be understood beyond the myopic context of crypto-money. I conclude by proposing three alternative ontologies for blockchains relevant to economic, political, and social life: as systems of accounting, as organizational forms, and as institutions…