Painting by Hilma av Klint
The blockchain is the decentralised ledger of Bitcoin, a global digital money that operates independently of existing government and financial institutions by using cryptographic hashing to register, validate and store transactions in a distributed manner. The blockchain has spurred a wave of innovation beyond Bitcoin and crypto-currencies, with the proposition of decentralizing processes that would normally require a central authority validate it and guarantee trust – leading to claims of impending radical transformation of governance and institutions of state and finance. The technology has thus caught the imagination of actors across the political spectrum sceptical of centralized authority …
The Distributing Chains research project is driven by the question of what matters politically in blockchain technology? By “matters” what is meant is literally mattering as in making a material difference. By “politically” what is meant is the mediation and resolution of incompatible positions and the process through which the possible and impossible are distributed across spaces and domains. Different forms of political mattering are traced across three aspects of blockchain, from protocol, in which political economies are encoded and continuously operate, an immanent power that makes some actions desirable over others; to governance and processes of maintenance, correction, forking and development, an explicit politics of negotiation and resolution of dissensus; and finally interfaces with other systems and agencies, to account for the contingencies and contexts of what is otherwise too often understood as hermetic systems, in order to open up space for evaluation of the claims and social and political effects of blockchain. The research is grounded in three case studies: Bitcoin, Ethereum and Faircoin, comparing consensus protocols and the different forms of agency that are assumed and distributed in each.