Theory, Culture, and Society, 36(4), 49–72. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276419826218
Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and blockchains have become buzzwords in the media and are attracting increasing academic interest, mainly from the fields of computer science and financial economics. 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 in their own right.
Keywords: assemblages, Bitcoin, blockchain, economy, money, technology
Methods: archival research; comparative historical