Blockchains. Media of Sovereignty

This project undertakes a theoretical-conceptual reflexion, an empirical investigation and a media studies based designation of blockchains with a focus on an analytics of powers. Its summarized initial hypothesis states the emergence of a new configuration of sovereignty with the advent of decentralized, open blockchains. Its most significant feature is the capability to validate itself with the use of consensus-protocols. In addition, blockchains offer the generation and administration of digital unique tokens, that can not be copied, but only transferred. Massive hashing-operations on the distributed ledger, that stores and confirms all data transfers, make this possible. In this way, single digital objects, for instance music files, can be addressed and administered. The project applicant names this administration and regulation technological objectivation. The concept objectivation is radically transformed here in the sense of a techno-political rationality and designates the modulation of objects from a distance, for instance in the form of terms of services. This governing technology becomes possible because of numerical representations of the governed objects in the form of hashes on the chain.Such scalable use regimes of objects and their representation by hashes respectively are based on a linking of heterogeneous registers that is validated by machines. This linking of different registers (syntactical, semantical, physical) will be understood and analysed as the main functional operation of blockchains.In addition to the theoretical-conceptual workup of the technical system blockchain and to evaluate the theory, the project analyses a case study ( To do so, there will be used expert interviews as well as innovative methods for participant observation to research digital milieus, for instance running and evaluating a blockchain node and the programming of smart contracts.The immanent government of such a system through its consensus protocol will be observed by a participant observation of a staking pool. Code studies serve the analysis of implicit social assumptions in the system, for instance what game theoretical models are shaping governance? What means for conflict resolution does it contain?Such systems are being updated externally, that may cause forks. A dedicated work package researches these external interventions.And finally, governmental subjectivation is conceptualized as the correlate of the diagnosed technological objectification in the encompassing sense of an environmentality, as it was outlined by Michel Foucault already in the 1970s to capture the becoming-environmental of powers. This power analytical diagnostics of the present concludes the project.

This is a 3-year DFG-funded research into the symmetries and asymmetries of decentralised blockchains, from within and without their communities, incl. code and tools.


  • Dr. Oliver Leistert