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Disassembling the Trust Machine, three cuts on the political matter of blockchain

BREKKE, CLARA,JAYA,ELEONORA (2019) Disassembling the Trust Machine, three cuts on the political matter of blockchain. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Blockchain technology is, in part, a proposal to resolve ‘the political’ through technical means: decentralised networks to solve the problem of authority; cryptography to coordinate and secure the network; and game theory and incentive design to solve network behaviour. This PhD thesis draws on theoretical work by Karen Barad (2007) and Jacques Rancière (Rancière, 2010) to ask the question of what matters politically in blockchain technology – both in the sense of matter as becoming material of a new mediation of the political, but also mattering in the sense of being of political importance to engineers, developers and communities forming around blockchain as a potential. Rather than treating blockchain as coherent thing to be either celebrated or criticised, this thesis proposes and attempts to draw out the ways in which the potentials of blockchain are negotiated as part of its political effects, looking towards these negotiations to understand how political differences are made and sought materialised. Three approaches to the political are articulated to analyse Bitcoin and Ethereum as case studies and shift their terms of debate. Firstly, addressing the question of algorithmic determinacy, an approach is proposed for critically understanding a blockchain proposition that does not immediately revert to a competition of control between ‘human’ and ‘machine’ through the notion of the insensible, drawing on work by geographer of the inhuman Yusoff (2013a). Secondly, drawing on political theorist Rancière (2010) a particular blockchain sensibility is articulated, addressing the question of the particular kind of ‘disruption’ that blockchain presents. Its specific provenance in political histories of decentralised network computation opens up political significance beyond its intersections with financial capitalism. Finally, addressing the question of blockchain as a resolution to the political, the thesis introduces the concept of dissensible as an ongoing potential for incompatible sensibilities and their negotiation.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Blockchain, Barad, politics of protocols, Bitcoin, Ethereum, FinTech, RegTech, cryptoecomics, political cryptoeconomics, platforms, decentralization
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:19 Jun 2019 16:50

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