Competing imaginaries: Crypto-utopianism and the material forces of Bitcoin mining

Anthropology Today 39(4): 4-8.

Drawing on Marx’s theory of history, this article argues that the competition and capital accumulation inherent in the production of Bitcoin (i.e. ‘mining’) are at odds with the narrative discourses that position Bitcoin as a revolutionary technology capable of subverting traditional power structures. Through an analysis of the evolution of Bitcoin mining, the article demonstrates how the material conditions of its production have shifted over time, leading to the concentration of mining power among a few large corporate entities and a concomitant erosion of the decentralized ethos that underpinned the early Bitcoin community. The article also argues that this shift is not simply a result of the ‘natural’ evolution of the technology, but also the outcome of specific social and economic forces that encourage the accumulation of capital over the democratic and decentralized potentialities of the technology. Overall, the article suggests that the narrative discourses surrounding Bitcoin need to be understood in relation to the material forces that shape its production and circulation, and that a more nuanced analysis of the interplay between material and discursive factors is necessary to fully grasp the dynamics of the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

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