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Accepted Paper:

Self-making stories: Accounts of cryptocurrencies from the ground  


Yathukulan Yogarajah (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how multi-level marketers narrate the story of bitcoin and its meteoric price rise, to sell cryptocurrencies to cash dependant and often marginalised members of communities. It explores how an entrepreneurial self, imbued with 'agency' to overcome financial hardship, is created.

Paper long abstract:

On 3 January 2009, the bitcoin network first came into the world. It was the product of a technical online community attempting to create a global digital decentralised currency away from gaze of the nation state. For the first couple of years, bitcoin was essentially worth nothing - it traded amongst a niche community of software developers. A large proportion of whom were attracted to bitcoin for its political emphasis on privacy. Fast forward to 2020, and cryptocurrencies are slowing reaching mainstream consciousness as the price of bitcoin soars above £6000. Those who not only bought early but maintained their conviction through drastic drops in price are now being rewarded handsomely.

Much of the literature on cryptocurrencies have focused on its technical mechanism, and the politics and philosophy this engenders. However, there has been little focus on those interacting with cryptocurrencies on the ground, away from the techno elite. Drawing upon ongoing ethnographic fieldwork conducted both online and offline, this paper interrogates how cryptocurrencies are being sold via multi-level marketing to cash dependant and often marginalised members of communities, by invoking the story of the meteoric price rise of bitcoin. For many, the bitcoin story is about meteoric price rises rather than any political or philosophical underpinnings. This paper goes on to examine how, through the telling and re-telling of the bitcoin story, an entrepreneurial self is created that is imbued with 'agency' to overcome financial hardship.

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