Research by political economists typically highlights policymakers, regulators, economists and consultants as the makers of economies. This paper foregrounds a different actor entirely, what I call the ‘hacker-engineer’ as an important protagonist in the making of decentralised digital network economies that are forged through the emerging field of ‘cryptoeconomics’ and blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies. Responding to critical literature stating that blockchain and ‘cryptoeconomics’ merely extend neoliberal processes of economisation, the paper recovers the neglected hacker culture of cypherpunk and histories of peer-to-peer decentralised networks in order to foreground concerns that depart from the continuation of economics and economies as usual. Hacker-engineers are dedicated to decentralisation as a ‘disruptive’ response to network control and surveillance, and share a pragmatist sensibility that seeks to make decentralised networks ‘work’ in order to provide informational security and privacy. While further broadening the range of agents that provide the focus for political economy research into the production of economies, the paper also draws attention to the technical decisions of hacker-engineers that attempt to reconfigure the material infrastructures of digital economies.
This work was supported by the ESRC under Grant ES/T006366/1. I thank also Professor Paul Langley for guidance on the literature, and the Geography Department at Durham University for continuing to host my research.