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Self-Organising in Blockchain Infrastructures: Generativity through Shifting Objectives and Forking

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Given the ubiquity of digital technologies, and increased use of autonomous algorithms, it is likely that many of today’s social and organisational processes will one day include autonomous elements. The Bitcoin blockchain is likely the first case of an increasingly generative and autonomous way of organising—and one in which the blockchain itself, as a digital infrastructure, plays a crucial role in how, and which, organising objectives are realised. The specific properties
of blockchain infrastructures—distribution of control, openness to manipulation, and generativity of the underlying source code—make it an ideal case to study patterns of what we call ‘selforganising’.

This paper investigates the phenomenon of self-organising through a study of forking in the Bitcoin blockchain infrastructure between 2010 and 2016. It adds to the emerging body of research on digital infrastructures, and particularly blockchain infrastructures, by conceptualising forking as a pattern of self-organising in blockchain infrastructures, specifically involving: 1) the underlying infrastructure; 2) the scale of code changes; 3) individual objectives; and 4) collective adoption, whether specific or general. Thus, it shows how forking in blockchain infrastructures mediates between divergent organising objectives and existing capabilities, on the one hand, and generates self-organising on the other hand. It further contextualises these findings in extant work on digital infrastructures, offers a guide for designers of blockchain infrastructures and proposes the concept of ‘generative mirroring’ as a pattern wherein blockchain infrastructures and organising adaptively co-evolve.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalJournal of the Association for Information Systems (JAIS)
Volume20
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)247-265
ISSN1558-3457
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sep 2019

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