Honourable mention for CAST thesis Arjen van der Heide

The Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities (KHMW) has given a honourable mention to Arjen van der Heide for his CAST thesis on ‘Money Matters. Disentangling Materiality in the Social and Political Life of Bitcoin’. His thesis of June 2016, supervised by Harro van Lente, investigates how Bitcoin expresses and changes the various practices of money.

Arjen van der Heide ‘Money Matters. Disentangling Materiality in the Social and Political Life of Bitcoin’

Invented in 2008, Bitcoin is a technological innovation that allows a decentralized organization of money and can be seen as a critique of existing monetary arrangements. Based on a wide variety of written sources, Arjan’s thesis reconstructs events in the social and political life of Bitcoin in which the agency of matter played a role.

What money is and does and how this relates to its materiality is a perennial question that has gained new urgency with current changes in money and finance. Social theories of money tend to take opposing positions in relation to materiality: while commodity theories of money see materiality as the source of its intrinsic value, sociological approaches understand money as a product of immaterial social processes and relations. Ongoing processes of digitization and proliferation of monetary alternatives, however, ask for new ways to understand the role of money’s materiality too. To these ends, the thesis develops an analytical framework based on literature in Science and Technology Studies (STS). Four aspects of sociomateriality are distinguished, which are then conceptualized as meaning, coordination, solidity and place. These concepts are used as heuristic devices in an analysis of Bitcoin.

The case study investigates how the materiality of Bitcoin shapes the relations, processes and associations that constitute it as ‘money’, but also how the former is shaped by the latter. This mutual constitution draws attention to the ways in which the agency of money’s materiality is situated in a wider social and political setting. In other words, a focus on the materiality of money raises new and pertinent questions about the social and political processes, relations and associations that constitute money.

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