What Was Bitcoin, What Will It Be? The Techno-economic Imaginaries of a New Money Technology

Swartz, Lana
Cultural Studies

In its first decade, Bitcoin has not proven to be a practical money form for most circumstances, but it has become a staging ground for debate around the cultural role of money in society. This debate is poised between two related but ultimately incompatible techno-economic imaginaries: infrastructural mutualism and digital metallism. Each offers a theory not just of money, but also of relations, identities, and the larger imaginaries we call ‘society’ and ‘the economy’. In particular, they offer distinct visions of what it means to be a ‘peer’ in a peer-to-peer money system, and perhaps, a peer-to-peer society. This article traces the pre-history of Bitcoin, as well as more recent developments, to inquire about its future, as well as the future of money more broadly.