The Social Life of Bitcoin

Theory, Culture and Society 35 (3):35-56 (2018)
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Abstract

This paper challenges the notion that Bitcoin is ‘trust-free’ money by highlighting the social practices, organizational structures and utopian ambitions that sustain it. At the paper's heart is the paradox that if Bitcoin succeeds in its own terms as an ideology, it will fail in practical terms as a form of money. The main reason for this is that the new currency is premised on the idea of money as a ‘thing’ that must be abstracted from social life in order for it to be protected from manipulation by bank intermediaries and political authorities. The image is of a fully mechanized currency that operates over and above social life. In practice, however, the currency has generated a thriving community around its political ideals, relies on a high degree of social organization in order to be produced, has a discernible social structure, and is characterized by asymmetries of wealth and power that are not dissimilar from the mainstream financial system. Unwittingly, then, Bitcoin serves as a powerful demonstration of the relational character of money.

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Citations of this work

Money Without State.Andrew M. Bailey, Bradley Rettler & Craig Warmke - 2021 - Philosophy Compass 16 (11):1-15.
The Socio-Technological Lives of Bitcoin.Adam Hayes - 2019 - Theory, Culture and Society 36 (4):49-72.
Making sense of alternative currencies.Louis Larue - 2019 - Dissertation, Université Catholique de Louvain

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