Of Bitcoins and Blockchains: The Social Construction of Crypto-Currencies

  • Thomas Redshaw

Student thesis: Phd


Bitcoin is an open source software program that allows its users to make transactions directly over a peer-to-peer network. The design for Bitcoin first appeared in 2008, and has since given rise to various adaptations, or ‘crypto-currencies’ constructed using the same ‘blockchain technology’. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the social elements active in these construction processes, as well as the social networks emerging around these technical practices. The thesis first aims to contextualise these practices by outlining the broad socio-economic and technical changes that made them possible. Theoretical and methodological discussions are then presented in chapters two and three as a means to establishing a process for investigating new technical practices sociologically. The greater part of the thesis then focuses on four case studies presented across three chapters. Firstly, the initial construction of Bitcoin is analysed with reference to the community of ‘cyber-libertarians’ that collaborated on its design and implementation. This is documented in chapter four. Chapter five then analyses two adaptations of Bitcoin, Namecoin and Faircoin, focusing on the particular interests and beliefs that motivated the actors involved. Chapter six then discusses a network of Bitcoin users primarily based in the United Kingdom, and traces the overlapping changes in their motivations and practices, which serve to influence directions in technical development. Ultimately, as outlined in chapter seven, I argue that Bitcoin illustrates the ambivalence of new digital technologies. While on the one hand Bitcoin as a technology is shown to be adaptable and open to modifications in its function and purpose, on the other, the social groups constructing variants of Bitcoin are too shown to be open to influence from broader forces of social power. Understanding these social forces is thus imperative if we are to understand how technology and society shape contemporary life.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorGemma Edwards (Supervisor), Graeme Kirkpatrick (Supervisor) & Kevin Gillan (Supervisor)


  • Critical Theory
  • Blockchain
  • STS
  • Bitcoin
  • Social Construction of Technology

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