We are delighted to announce another discussion group event, taking place on Monday 14 November 2016 at 2pm in Room 11.01 of the David Hume Tower. Our speaker will be Pablo Velasco (University of Warwick), who will present on the following topic:
Understanding Cryptocurrencies as Political Devices
My dissertation project is concerned to understand Bitcoin (and hence Blockchain technology) from a critical perspective. I seek to identify the particular power dynamics performed by and through this technology. In order to do this, I systematically question what and where is Bitcoin, and how and which entities are involved in its transformations. I broadly refer to these transformations as the morphology of Bitcoin, and I consistently observe this morphology through a political and ontological prism. Each chapter of the dissertation adopts a different methodology and approach to answer the following broad questions:
1. Which politics were involved in the emergence of blockchains as new ‘organisms’ (and what is Bitcoin as a specific instance)? Why is bitcoin associated with money? What kind of knowledges, discourses and practices molded it as an economic instrument?
In the first part of the dissertation I argue that the emergence of Bitcoin was made possible by an assemblage of 1. An interest in secure communications through technology, 2. A subsequent addendum of political concerns to new comm tech, and 3. An intention to produce natively digital financial assets.
2. Which politics define the (material but elusive) space where this organism evolved? Which are the geopolitics of Bitcoin? In what kind of territorial or non-territorial space Bitcoin dwells?
In my second chapter I argue against the strong notions of immateriality and universality associated with the device by empirically describing the geographical distribution of its infrastructural network. However, I also claim that the political notion of territory is unfitting for a theoretical and critical approach to the object.
3. How these political changes take place, specifically in the socio-technical order shaping the technology? Is it possible to locate authority entities within it?
The third chapter observes decision making processes in the current configuration of Bitcoin, and identifies opposing vectors of action with their respective rationales. In this chapter I argue that its money properties challenge the traditional and key open source characteristic of forking. I also claim that due to its particular open, distributed, and headless (unlike other OSS projects) nature, there is an authority void that atypically transforms power performance among open projects.
4. How do forces in this non-territorial space claim control, or enact power, if authority is elusive? How are parties benefited by the enactment of device-specific power relations?
The fourth chapter is a work in progress. In it I expect to frame the Bitcoin blockchain within a political economy framework. The chapter will locate and reflect on the generation of native actors of this contested and non-territorial space, and how power is exercised between its stakeholers despite the lack of traditional authoritarian structures. It will observe the practices of production and regulation of money (practices traditionally managed by the state institutions) in Bitcoin, with the open question of how power is enacted in them and their contexts.
In this chapter I argue that even though the Bitcoin system is populated with an empowerment discourse, it’s unique affordance is not to restructure balance in relations of domination, but to grasp a much desired accountability and control in an inherently fluid and open system. Following the work of Michel Foucault, Scott Lash, Hardt and Negri, and the recent work of Benjamin Bratton I follow the shift from sovereign, institutional authority, and other forms of performance of power (both in state and corporation-like institutions), into non-territorial, open, and controlled communications systems.
The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome and no registration is required.