The Bitcoin game: Ethno-resonance as method

Donncha Kavanagh, Gianluca Miscione, PJ Ennis

Organization 26.4 (2019): 517-536


The global financial crisis and the contemporaneous emergence of the digital currency Bitcoin invite us to think about money and how it often functions almost imperceptibly in society. In this article, we show that Bitcoin is a ‘new object of concern’ that also compels us to reimagine ethnography in a digital age. We present a method, which we term ethno-resonance, that is both a reaction to the conditions presented by the Bitcoin phenomenon and a way of maintaining critical distance from its cyberlibertarian politics. We explicate six aspects of the method, framed around answers to what, why, how, who, when and where questions. Applied to cryptocurrencies, the method leads us to depict Bitcoin as a game, and we analyse the game’s dynamics through mapping the interplay between four foundational myths that animate, complicate and sustain the game. More broadly, this contributes to our understanding of the nature of money and alternative currencies.