The Cybernetic Ethos of Cryptocurrencies: Economic and Social Dimensions


The last years have experienced an effervescence in the field of monetary innovation, concerning both complementary currencies and cryptocurrencies. The scenario of innovation has been intensively investigated with regard to economic and socio-political aspects. Against the peculiar multidimensionality of the phenomenon, the paper argues that the analysis should take the opportunity of grasping a cobelonging between the economic and the social. Whether they seem related to a proliferation of new forms of sociality (as in many experiences of complementary currencies) or to a disquieting desocialization (as in certain domains of the cryptocurrencies' world), the social dimensions of the new monies can be fruitfully analyzed by focusing on how they are consonant with certain basic conceptions of economic life. After a brief discussion of this point with regard to complementary currencies, the above-mentioned theoretical approach is used to investigate the cybernetic ethos of cryptocurrencies. The analysis shows that the socio-technical imaginaries of some cryptocurrencies (with particular regard to Bitcoin) call into question the relationship between human and non-human agency and are complicit with certain ideas of economic life, one of whose main traits concerns the demand for unconditionally "assuring" the economic and for denying the dimension of uncertainty.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v13i1p384

Keywords: complementary currencies; cryptocurrencies; cybernetic ethos; monetary innovation; economic dimensions; social dimensions


Amato M. (2018), “The Bitcoin or the Reality of a Waking Dream” in J. Pixley and H. Flam (eds.), Critical Junctures in Mobile Capital, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 268-276.

Amato M., L. Fantacci (2012), The End of Finance, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Amato M., L. Fantacci (2014), Saving the Market from Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Amato M., L. Fantacci (2018), Per un pugno di Bitcoin. Rischi e opportunità delle monete virtuali, second edition, Milano: Università Bocconi Editore.

Amoore L., R. Raley (2017), “Securing with algorithms: Knowledge, decision, sovereign-ty”, Security Dialogue, 48(1), 3–10.

BambouClub (2017), “Are you in the bitcoin 1%? A new model of the distribution of bitcoin wealth”, Medium, 9 September, retrieved on 9 March 2020 (

Blanc J. (2011), “Classifying "CCs": Community, complementary and local currencies’ types and generations”, International Joumal of Community Currency Research, 15, Special Issue, 11-16.

Bloch M. (1954), Esquisse d’une histoire monétaire de l’Europe, Paris: Colin.

Bostrom N. (2009), “The future of humanity”, Geopolitics, History, and International Rela-tions, 1(2), 41–78

Collins R. (1986), Weberian Sociological Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cunningham A. (2016), “Decentralisation, distrust & fear of the body – The worrying rise of crypto-law”, SCRIPTed, 13(3), 235–257.

Dodd N. (2014), The Social Life of Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dodd N. (2018), “The social life of Bitcoin”, Theory, Culture & Society, 35(3): 35–56.

Doria L. (2013), Calculating the Human. Universal Calculability in the Age of Quality Assur-ance, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Doria L., L. Fantacci (2018), “Evaluating complementary currencies: from the assessment of multiple social qualities to the discovery of a unique monetary sociality”, Quality & Quantity, 52(3): 1291–1314.

Fama M., A. Fumagalli and S. Lucarelli (2019), “Cryptocurrencies, Monetary Policy, and New Forms of Monetary Sovereignty”, International Journal of Political Economy, 48:2: 174-194.

Fantacci L. (2013), “Reforming money to exit the crisis: examples of non-capitalist mone-tary systems in theory and practice”, in J. Pixley and J. Harcourt (eds.) Financial crises and the nature of capitalist money: Mutual developments from the work of Geoffrey Ingham, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 124-147.

Fantacci L. (2019), “Cryptocurrencies and the denationalisation of money” International Journal of Political Economy 48 (2):105-126.

Gillespie T. (2014), “The relevance of algorithms”, in: T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski and K. Foot (eds), Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 167–194.

Goertzel B. (2015), “Beyond money: offer networks, a potential infrastructure for a postmoney economy”, in B. Goertzel, T. Goertzel (eds.), The End of the Beginning: Life, Society and Economy on the Brink of the Singularity, Los Angeles, CA: Humani-ty+Press, pp. 522–549.

Hayles N. K. (2012), How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Chi-cago, IL: Chicago University Press.

Heylighen F. (2017), “Towards an intelligent network for matching offer and demand: from the sharing economy to the Global Brain”, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 114: 74–85.

Ingham G. (2004), The Nature of Money, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ingham G. (2008), Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kostakis V., C. Giotitsas, (2014), “The (A) political economy of bitcoin”, tripleC: Communi-cation, Capitalism & Critique, 12(2), 431-440.

Kurzweil R. (2000), The Age of Spiritual Machines, London: Penguin Books.

Latour B. (1993), We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour B. (1996), Aramis, or the Love for Technology, trans. C. Porter, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour B. (1999), Pandora’s Hope, Essay on the Reality of Science Studies, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour B. (2005), Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Ox-ford: Oxford University Press.

Lucarelli S., L. Gobbi (2016), “Local clearing unions as stabilizers of local economic sys-tems: a stock flow consistent perspective”, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 40(5), 1397-1420.

Maurer B., T. C. Nelms and L. Swartz (2013), “‘When perhaps the real problem is money itself!’: The practical materiality of Bitcoin”, Social Semiotics 23(2): 261–77.

Nakamoto S. (2008), Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system, retrieved on 28 Feb-ruary 2020 (

Nelms T. C., B. Maurer, L. Swartz and S. Mainwaring (2018), “Social Payments: Innova-tion, Trust, Bitcoin, and the Sharing Economy”, Theory, Culture and Society, 35(3): 13–33.

North P. (2006), Alternative Currency Movements as a Challenge to Globalisation? A Case Study of Manchester's Local Currency Networks, Aldershot. UK & Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Limited and Ashgate Publishing Company (Econornic Geography Series).

North P. (2007), Money and Liberation: The MicropoÌitics of the Alternative Currency Movement, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pacione M. (1997), “Local exchange trading systems as a response to the globalisation of capitalism” Urban Studies, 34(8): 1179-1199.

Raley R. (2016), “Algorithmic translations”, CR: The New Centennial Review, 16(1): 115–137.

Sartori L., P. Dini (2016), “From complementary currency to institution: a micro-macro study of the Sardex mutual credit system”, Stato e mercato, 36(2): 273-304.

Sefang G. (2001), “Community currencies: small change for a green economy”, Environ-ment and Planning A, 33(6): 975-996.

Seyfang G. (2002), “Tackling social exclusion with community currencies: learning frorn LETS to time Banks”, International Joumal of Community Currency Research, 6, l-l1.

Schneider N. (2019), “Decentralization: an incomplete ambition”, Journal of Cultural Economy, 12(4): 265-285.

Vigna P., M. J. Casey (2015), The Age of Cryptocurrency. How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Wright A., P. De Filippi (2015), Decentralized blockchain technology and the rise of lex cryptographia, retrieved on 28 February 2020 (

Zelizer. V.A. (1997), The Social Meaning of Money, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Zelizer V.A. (2011), Economic lives. How Culture Shapes the Economy, Princeton: Prince-ton University Press.

Zook M. A., J. Blankenship (2018), “New spaces of disruption? The failures of Bitcoin and the rhetorical power of algorithmic governance”, Geoforum, 96: 248-255.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.