New spaces of disruption? The failures of Bitcoin and the rhetorical power of algorithmic governance

Matthew A. Zook, Joe Blankenship

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations

Abstract

In less than a decade Bitcoin and the technology of blockchain – a cryptographically-secured, algorithmically-regulated, distributed-ledger – emerged as the enfant terrible of the global economy. Ironically, as cryptocurrencies reached collective valuations of hundreds of billions of dollars the Bitcoin project failed in its original purpose as an alternative currency governed by code rather than trust. Not only has Bitcoin not become a popular means of global peer-to-peer transactions but the much vaulted purity of algorithmic governance is heavily entangled in social relations. This article reviews blockchain's computer architectures, its connections to materiality and space and the complexity of its established practices. This analysis shows that rather than occupying an algorithmic place apart, blockchain contains multiple and conflicting agencies and is messily embedded in the code/space of materiality. Nevertheless the faith in the superiority of algorithmic governance has injected a powerful discourse in economies that has proven more important and disruptive than the actual practices of Bitcoin or blockchain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-255
Number of pages8
JournalGeoforum
Volume96
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Bitcoin
  • Blockchain
  • Code/space
  • Disruption
  • Financial technologies
  • Fintech
  • Innovation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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