Katharina Hoffmann

Lunchtime Seminar - Prof. Donncha Kavanagh (University College Dublin)

Bitcoin as Digital Infrastructure
Tuesday, 18. October 2016 - 12:00 to Monday, 26. September 2022 - 11:34, Leo 18


Donncha Kavanagh is Professor of Information & Organisation in the Business School at University College Dublin, Ireland.  His research interests include the sociology of knowledge and technology, temporality, phronesis, the history and philosophy of management thought, pre-modern modes of organizing, money, play and creativity. Currently he is studying the socio-political aspects of cryptocurrencies, and modes through which value is created and retained in the digital society. He has published widely in the fields of information and organization, management, marketing, organization studies, and engineering.  Further details at http://www.donnchakavanagh.com/


Bitcoin—and cryptocurrencies more generally—is an important and distinctive digital infrastructure that warrants substantive study by students of information systems.  In this seminar, the Bitcoin system will be briefly described and the particular methodological challenges involved in studying the phenomenon are also discussed.  The central argument is that neither of the two broad conceptualisations of information infrastructures found in the literature—top-down and bottom-up—are helpful in understanding Bitcoin.  Instead, Bitcoin is better understood as a form of game and the presentation will draw on the ludology literature and the case material to identify its game dimensions.  Bitcoin is a particular type of game, and the term Klein Bottle Game will be introduced to describe this type of game.  A Klein bottle a one-sided, non-orientable surface that has no boundary.   The main features of Klein bottle games will be described and four points will be developed.  First, they are different from most games in that the boundaries between the game and non-game worlds are not decipherable.  Second, the term Klein Portal describes the particular set of practices that link the Klein Bottle Game that is Bitcoin to other infrastructures.  Third, Bitcoin exhibits many of the features of the carnivalesque—one might speak of the crypto-carnivalesque—in that it is a site where norms and structures are temporarily suspended, conventional authority is contested, and autonomy if favoured over heteronomy.  Fourth, Bitcoin is a site of ironic inversion, in that the ideology that drove Bitcoin’s initial development is now showing signs of being inverted.  Bitcoin is a distinctive phenomenon and therefore one should be cautious in extending this analysis to other instances of digital infrastructures.