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Accepted Paper:

Spheres of exchange 2.0: Conversions and conveyances in Bitcoin economy  


Martin Tremcinsky (Faculty of social science, Charles University, Prague)

Paper short abstract:

Bitcoin re-introduces monetary pluralism to western economies and brings the anthropological question of conversions between spheres of exchange to the picture. Thanks to its ambivalence and technological design it poses as "digital cash" and challenges cashless economies.

Paper long abstract:

Bitcoin is a new digital technology of exchange which re-introduces into western societies monetary pluralism. Bitcoin is designed in order to overcome the control of central regulators over economic exchange and as such it is quite resistant towards state-led institutionalization. By many members of Bitcoin community Bitcoin is referred to as "digital cash" - combining mobility of digital finance with exclusivity of ownership of cash - and thus it challenges the "cashless" culture with its socio-political implications. This puts Bitcoin into legally and economically ambivalent position which plays crucial role in its practical uses, i.e. sometimes it is treated as money, sometimes as commodity; sometimes the prices for goods and services are fixed in fiat currencies, sometimes in bitcoins. Such situation of "monetary anarchism" resonates with monetary practices of west-African popular economies as described by Jane I. Guyer in "Marginal Gains". Guyer analyses asymmetrical monetary conversions, where statuses of money-objects are being shifted in order to allow gains for one of the exchanging parties. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in two Bitcoin communities in Prague and Bratislava this paper argues that Bitcoin allows for a similar kind of conversions. Such strategies enable some members of the Bitcoin community to deal with volatility of Bitcoin's prize and ambivalence of its legal status and treat the "monetary anarchism" as a resource of its own.

Panel P057
Digital encounters, cashless cultures: Ethnographic perspectives on the impact of digital finance on economic communities