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Title: The Emergence of Blockchain: Institutions, Open Source Technology and the Social Organization of Early-Stage Digital Transformation
Authors: Windawi, Anwar Jason
Advisors: StarrZelizer, PaulViviana
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: blockchain
general purpose technology
institutional change
Subjects: Sociology
Organization theory
Information technology
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Blockchain technology has emerged from the shadow of Bitcoin to become a central component of 21st century digital transformation, and has become a focus of experimentation by actors ranging from the world’s oldest central banks to startups spanning nearly every industry sector. This combination of novelty and seeming ubiquity means that blockchain technology provides an unusual opportunity to study digital transformation in its pre-settlement stage. This dissertation approaches digital transformation as a question of social organization, and asks how people organize to implement a novel technology when both the technology and the social organization around it are in flux. I explore this question of techno-social organization at the macro and meso levels using a combination of computational and qualitative digital methodologies. At the macro level, my analysis is based on a unique data set I have constructed of roughly 5,000 blockchain implementations and an interpretive data science approach I developed to classify these implementations in the absence of a “ground truth” pre-existing framework. I develop a three-level taxonomy of implementations that I then use to ask how an emergent general purpose technology interacts with higher-level, institutionalized social structures such as institutions and established economic domains. I find that the technology’s generality of purpose is embodied by three clusters: programmable money, tokenization and computational infrastructure. I also find that its widespread adoption is driven by three patterns of reinvention whose differences result largely from variation in the alignment between the functions of the technology and the core institutions in the domains in which it is being applied. At the meso level I use comparative case studies and algorithmic ethnography to study how people organize to implement a new technology. My analysis at the meso level is divided into classic questions of coordination and control or governance. I find that coordination uses both established and 21st century organizational forms as component microstructures that are recombined in novel ways. In studying governance, I find that the institutionalization of open source processes has, together with the technology itself, enabled the emergence of a new, digital form of institution-building.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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