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The Bitcoin protocol as a system of power

Zamani, Efpraxia D.



In this study, I use the Critical Realism perspective of power to explain how the Bitcoin protocol operates as a system of power. I trace the ideological underpinnings of the protocol in the Cypherpunk movement to consider how notions of power shaped the protocol. The protocol by design encompasses structures, namely Proof of Work and Trustlessness that reproduce asymmetrical constraints on the entities that comprise it. These constraining structures generate constraining mechanisms, those of cost effectiveness and deanonymisation, which further restrict participating entities’ ‘power to act’, reinforcing others’ ‘power over’ them. In doing so, I illustrate that the Bitcoin protocol, rather than decentralising and distributing power across a network of numerous anonymous, trustless peers, it has instead shifted it, from the traditional actors (e.g., state, regulators) to newly emergent ones.


Zamani, E. D. (2022). The Bitcoin protocol as a system of power. Ethics and Information Technology, 24(1), Article 14.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 5, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 28, 2022
Publication Date 2022-03
Deposit Date Aug 16, 2023
Journal Ethics and Information Technology
Print ISSN 1388-1957
Electronic ISSN 1572-8439
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 1
Article Number 14
Keywords Library and Information Sciences; Computer Science Applications
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