Decentralisation, Distrust & Fear of the Body: The Worrying Rise of Crypto-Law

Alan Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The increasing collective use of distributed application software platforms, programming languages and crypto-currencies around the blockchain concept for general transactions may have radical implications for the way in which society conceptualizes and applies trust and trust-based social systems such as law.

By exploring one iteration of such generalized blockchain systems – Ethereum – and the historical lineage of such systems, it will be argued that indeed their ideological basis is largely one of distrust, decentralisation and, ultimately, via increasing disassociation of identity, a fear of the body itself.

This ideological basis can be reframed as a crypto-legal approach to the problems of human interaction, one whereby the purely technological solutions outlined above are considered adequate for reconciling many of the problems of our collective existence.

The article concludes, however, by re-iterating a perspective of law as a more so entirely embodied and trust dependent notion. These aspects go some way to explaining the necessarily centralised role it takes on within societies.

They also explain why the crypto-legal approaches advanced by systems like Ethereum – or even the co-opting of blockchain technology by law firms themselves – will only ever be at best efficiency exercises concerned with the processing of data relating to legal affairs, and not the more radical, ambiguous and difficult process of actual legal thought or, indeed, engagement with trust.
Original languageEnglish
Article number235
Issue number3
Early online date1 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


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