Work Package 4 – Documenting blockchain adoption and assessing its societal impact.

 I identified four, closely related processes through which blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt social systems. (1) Tokenization enables currently centrally maintained public or private records to be transferred to the blockchain as virtual tokens. Identity records, such as driver’s licenses, identity cards, passports, voter registrations, bank accounts, biometric identifiers, digital and real world reputation scores, marriage and death certificates; public records of land and property titles, vehicle registrations, business licenses; control of physical assets such as access to homes, hotel rooms, (rental) cars; and the control of intangible ones, such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, or domain names can all be encoded into secure virtual tokens. (2) Blockchains can record the initial allocation of the tokens, and their exchanges in a decentralized manner, without the need of a central point of authority. (3) Tokens can be created, consumed, exchanged and manipulated by smart contracts to automate complex relationships. A smart contract is a software code that encapsulate business logic, i.e. rules about money transfers, equity stake transfers, and other types of binding obligations, based on predetermined conditions. Smart contracts can automatize many practices, by automatically executing certain actions if particular conditions are met. For example, in Distributed Autonomous Organizations voting and ownership rights are tokenized, and smart contracts describe the company’s by-laws in programmatic terms.  (4) Taken together, tokens, the blockchain, and smart contracts may force the radical transformation of many of our traditional institutions that now keep authoritative information (such as collective rights management organizations on one’s copyrights), mediate certain transactions (online intermediaries like Spotify distribute copyrighted works and artists’ remuneration), and thus define certain social domains (such as creative industries).

WP4 will document and analyse the process of the social construction of blockchain technology (Bijker et al., 2012), the process, through which various stakeholders in a social domain: incumbents, outsider-disruptors, regulators, commentators, laymen, academics, etc. understand, discuss, give meaning to, adopt, domesticate a new, potentially disruptive technology. This social construction process is well underway, (but hardly studied) in the context of finance and cryptocurrencies. The goal of WP4 is to analyse, from the very beginning, this adoption process in social domains beyond finance.

This WP will (1) observe the discourse and emerging social consensus around blockchain technology via the collection of the documents of this process: the public discourse in the popular press, trade publications, and specialized online fora; the analyses in white papers, reports, academic and business studies; the public statements of stakeholders expressed in talks, workshops, fairs and conferences; the ideas, attitudes, fears, expectations, strategies formulated in semi-structured interviews with stakeholders, policymakers, and other involved/affected parties. Through the qualitative, thematic analysis of these documents WP4 will then (2) assess the opportunities and limits of tokenization, (3) map the social conditions of decentralization and disintermediation; (4) analyse the limits of transformation of our traditional (public, private) intermediaries.