Towards a Theory of Digital Network De/centralization: Platform-Infrastructure Lessons Drawn from Blockchain
119 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2019
Date Written: December 13, 2019
Global digital platforms are conquering the world and rely critically on digital infrastructures to function, yet little research has explored the fundamental interrelationship between the two. This working paper argues that understanding centralization and decentralization in digital networks as asymmetry and symmetry in mutual interdependencies between the constitutive elements of a digital network can help us understand the platform-infrastructure relationship more fundamentally (and vice versa). To this end, the paper proposes, as a starting point, the in-depth analytical and literature study of blockchain networks as a particularly revealing type of digital platform/infrastructure duality. The paper proposes an analytical model for characterizing de/centralization in digital networks and maps this onto blockchain networks. Based on this, the paper explores the de/centralization of blockchain, arguing that the extant blockchain literature largely has failed in providing a comprehensive understanding of de/centralization by not considering the complex second-order interdependencies between the different constitutive dimensions of a blockchain: the symbolic, technological and political dimension. Based on this, the paper provides an analysis of the meaning of de/centralization in blockchain networks by studying the interdependencies between its constitutive elements of coin, network technology, and social community.
Keywords: Digital Networks, Blockchain Analytical Framework, Definition, Decentralization, Digital Infrastructure, Digital Platform
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