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Accepted Paper:

What web3 calls thinking - from democratisation to inequality in blockchain ideologies  
Johannes Lenhard (University of Cambridge) Amy Winecoff (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

While web3 narratives are based on a strong focus on democratisation, decentralisation, transparency and access, first interviews with web3 investors and entrepreneurs show a stark tension between their own goals and these narratives. How can what web3 calls thinking be squared?

Paper long abstract:

Proponents and practitioners of web3 argue that decentralized technologies have not only technological, but also broader social, economic, and even political benefits. Blockchain technologies in particular are not only seen to be more efficient (less based on humans), but democratise and enable access (e.g. to a currency), make transparent and secure (e.g. the decentralised organisation). To date, empirical research on the sociopolitical values embedded within decentralized technologies has focused on consumers (e.g. Cousins, Subramanian, & Esmaeilzadeh, 2019) or has sought to understand the perspective of companies via publicly available whitepapers (e.g. Inwood & Zappavigna, 2021) or public case studies (e.g. Hutten, 2018). In our qualitative research, we explore through repeat interviews the subjective perspectives of developers, entrepreneurs, and investors in blockchain-enabled companies on the technological and sociopolitical benefits and risks of these technologies. Paraphrasing Daub (2020), our research focuses on what web3 calls thinking - from values to ideologies of the key web3 investors and entrepreneurs.

What first exploratory data brings to the fore is in stark tension to the 'ideological narratives' underlying web3; instead of increased access, web3 investors are still mostly interested in 'blitzscaling unicorns' (fast scaling and fast exits). Similarly, web3 entrepreneurs and operators are as obsessed with reputation and scale as they might be with the 'democratisation narrative' at times. Underlying all of this is emerging empirical evidence that in fact blockchains are highly unequal: 0.1% of miners control 50% of capacity; 10,000 people hold a third of all cryptocurrency. How does thats square?

Panel P10b
Exclusion by design: technology and the shaping of inequalities
  Session 1 Wednesday 8 June, 2022, -