Infrastructures and Their Invisible Carnivalesque
Proceedings of the 33rd European Group of Organizational Studies (EGOS) Colloquium, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 6–8, 2017
27 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 6, 2017
In this paper, we argue that Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies more generally, is an important and distinctive information infrastructure that warrants substantive study by organizational scholars. The Bitcoin system is briefly described and the particular methodological challenges involved in studying the phenomenon are also discussed. We assert that neither of the two broad conceptualisations of information infrastructures found in the literature — top-down and bottom-up — help us in understanding Bitcoin. Instead, Bitcoin is better understood as a form of game and we draw on the ludology literature and the case material to identify its game dimensions. Bitcoin is a particular type of game, and we introduce the term Klein Bottle Game to describe this type of game. A Klein bottle a one-sided, non-orientable surface that has no boundary. We then describe the main features of Klein bottle games. First, they are different from most games in that the boundaries between the game and non-game worlds are not decipherable. Second, we use the term Klein Portal to describe the particular set of practices that link the Klein Bottle Game that is Bitcoin to other infrastructures. Third, we argue that Bitcoin exhibits many of the features of the carnivalesque — hence we 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 shows signs of now being inverted. We conclude by noting the distinctivenature of Bitcoin and caution against extending our analysis to other instances of information infrastructures.
Keywords: Information Infrastructure, Ethnography, Bitcoin, Carnivalesque, Klein Bottle
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