Blockchains in Action

BitterCoin © César Escudero Andaluz, Martín Nadal. How does a distributed ledger become a medium? Why do people count on blockchain as a future technology? Our research project does not answer these questions on an abstract level. We rather aim to explore the development and operating of blockchain infrastructure on site. Initially, we conduct interviews with stakeholders working on applications for payment systems and the Internet of Things.

Blockchains in Action assumes that development and transformation processes can be observed in local material practices of cooperation. We understand blockchains as infrastructural and public media. Their capacities for mediation only become observable in practice, which we approach through a combination of ethnography and media theory.

You are working on a blockchain-based project and want to get into conversation with us? We’d be glad to! Please contact us at and or via Twitter: @blockchainsIA.

Starting grant at the CRC “Media of Cooperation”,
Siegen University, 2018–2019

Photograph (c) César Escudero Andaluz, Martín Nadal.

Paranoia inklusive – Yasha Levines „Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet“

Die dreckige Wäsche wird immer zum Schluss gewaschen. Yasha Levines furiose Abrechnung mit dem Surveillance Valley setzt auf den letzten Seiten zum Rundumschlag an. Egal ob Edward Snowden, Jacob Applebaum, Roger Dingledine oder die Electronic Frontier Foundation: Für Levine spielen die Aktivisten rund um die Verschlüsselungssoftware Tor allzu naiv das Spiel von Geheimdiensten und Militärs mit, ohne sich kritisch mit der Herkunft ihrer favorisierten Technologien auseinander zu setzen. Levine, Sohn russischer Einwanderer und investigativer Journalist, hält sich hingegen an die Devise follow the money. Er beginnt sein Buch mit der bekannten Geschichte von Sputnik-Schock und Vietnamkrieg, die in den USA der 1960er-Jahre staatliche Forschungsgelder im ungeahnten Umfang mobilisierten. Er widmet sich der Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), die auf dieser Basis als Forschungsagentur des US-Verteidigungsministeriums gegründet wird.

Yasha Levine: Surveillance Valley - The Secret Military History of the Internet

Als Urszene der digitalen Überwachung fungieren in Surveillance Valley die strategischen Aktivitäten der ARPA zur Aufstandsbekämpfung im Project Agile. Sie beruhten auf einer Analyse des Militärgeheimdienstmanns William Godel: Angesichts der militärischen Fehler der französischen Kolonialmacht in Vietnam lautete dessen Schlussfolgerung, dass zukünftige counterinsurgency kleinteiliger, verdeckt, mit mehr High-Tech und psychologischer Kriegsführung operieren müsse. Noch vor Ausbruch des Vietnamkrieges baute die ARPA daher für das Pentagon gezielt Überwachungsstationen in Vietnam auf. Im Rahmen von Operation Igloo White wurden ­– weitestgehend ohne Erfolg – tausende Sensoren und Mikrofone im Dschungel platziert.

„Paranoia inklusive – Yasha Levines „Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet““ weiterlesen

Standards Revisited

Thursday, 24 January 2019, University of Siegen
Herrengarten 3, 57072 Siegen, room AH 217/218

13:15 Opening Remarks: Standards Revisited
Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen) / Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)

13:30 Anna Echterhölter (University of Vienna)
Red and Black Boxes: Standardization as Mesuroclasm in German New Guinea

14:30 Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)
George Eastman and the Calendar Reform

16:00 Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of California, Irvine)
Standard Time: Computers, Clocks and Turtles – via Zoom Conference

17:00 Lawrence Busch (Michigan State University)
Markets and Standards – via Zoom Conference

Friday, 25 January 2019

10:00 JoAnne Yates (MIT, Sloan School of Management)
A New Model for Standard Setting: How IETF became the Standards Body for the Internet

11:00 Thomas Haigh
(University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee / University of Siegen)
The Accidental Standard: How a Box Became an Industry

13:00 Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen)
Standardizing Digital Payments

14:00 Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam)/ Fernando van der Vlist (University of Amsterdam / University of Siegen)
‘It’s Graphs All the Way Down’

Standards are not easy to come by. As infrastructural media they coordinate the social to an ever-growing extent, thus creating conditions of cooperation. Standards do so not just by their sociotechnical power, but also by public uptake and controversies that put their accountability into question. They can also be understood as engineering and bureaucratic media that form a basis and condition for cooperation.

Historically, practices of standardization can be traced back to antiquity, especially in the history of coins, writing, and measurements. But pre-modern standards were bound to flounder and dissipate. Early modern knowledge cultures – partly – realized standardization via hand-made scientific instruments that extended metrological chains. While pre-industrial attempts to standardize the aggregation of information in administrative forms have been limited in scale and scope, 19th century industrialization interconnected with nationalized politics extended the territories of standardization. Media infrastructures such as the postal service and telegraphy became transnational through their administration in international organizations and a legal foundation via international treaties. Scale and scope of – inherently political and normative – standards and metrologies were at the same time constitutive for colonial prospection and rule.

Computing has given rise to its own regimes and obsessions of non-governmental standardizing. While early digital computers were unique, the trajectories of standardization were then tied to governmental contract research, commercialization and its coordinative and delegative practices. Serial production and the diffusion of architectural norms became a matter of economic competition in the era of mainframe computing in organizations. In multiple ways both the networking of heterogeneous computers and the success of the IBM-compatible PC did create a pathway to “open standards” that made computers publicly accessible. In the transpacific and global arena of hardware and software production, hyper-standardization has been an issue ever since. This also involves the questions of formats that mediate bureaucratic processes, textual representation, visual and auditory perception, and digital audiovisuality. Formats thus have become standards that mediate digital practices in their own right, just like network protocols and Internet standards. In many ways, the ecology of the World Wide Web is an ecology due to its standardizing bodies, communities of practice, and institutions like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Our aim is to understand how standards generalize and universalize media technologies, and to ask: How do metrology, industrialization, and imperialism/colonialism intersect with standards? What is the relation between standards, digital media, and coordination? How to explain the longue durée, ecology, and the enduring power of standards to configure cooperation? What is the relation between standards, delegative power, scale, and scope of media?

Collaborative Research Center Media of Cooperation, University of Siegen CRC project A01: “Digital Network Technologies between Specialization and Generalization

MoneyLab #6 „Infrastructures of Money“

MoneyLab 6 Infrastructures of Money

Call for contributions
[reblog from]

Siegen (Germany), 7-8 March 2019

The cryptocurrency spectacle might not be over yet, but its spectacular boom and bust has given way to the banality of the blockchain, to a more subtle and pervasive set of effects. So what is happening in this current post-hype situation? Imaginaries of a “cashless society” are becoming very real now, a vision rapidly being realised through cryptocurrencies and other token-based digital moneys. Banks are anxious to avoid falling behind. If institutions start to worry about “disruption” and “not being digital enough”, the tides might really start to shift. Yet going beyond finance to think more broadly, the affordances of blockchain applications allow for novel forms of exchange and data practices. Commercial platforms see a new architecture for extraction that might replace the crumbling ad-based model of monetisation. Artists, activists and journalists see an infrastructure ripe for critical intervention and appropriation. 

At MoneyLab #6 we want to explore the new relations between money, valuation and (digital) infrastructures. “Infrastructures of Money” addresses money both as practice and as the social infrastructure and condition for cooperation. Money is not just a number written in dollars and cents, but a medium of relation and a token of trust. Situated in Siegen University’s broader Media Studies department, the Collaborative Research Center “Media of Cooperation” invites you to inquire into the socio-materialities of monetary and valuation practices. In the tradition of MoneyLab, we encourage contributors to critique social media, to explore practices of digital infrastructures, and to investigate valorisations of social life. We aim to address the tensions between global corporate infrastructures and local practices and enactments. What if we were capable of reinventing money as a medium of cooperation?

We invite artistic, creative and activist contributions on “Infrastructures of Money”.

Please send your contributions to before 31 December 2018.


For MoneyLab #6 in Siegen, we welcome contributions on the following 6 themes:

1. Anthropology of Money 

Money is as much a question of practice as it is of infrastructure. Things are bought and sold. Money changes hands. The anthropology of money has a long tradition of exploring these localised practices of exchange through ethnographic inquiries into the relations between money, gift and credit. The quantified data units of platforms and their new digital tokens of value not only introduce new standards of exchange but also challenge anthropologists to account for situated practices and global infrastructures at the same time. It seems sociality, like everything else, can be monetised. How do these changing infrastructures alter monetary practices and our account of value? Are we in need of a new general monetary theory?

2. Finance, Automation and Surveillance

Financial surveillance is still on its way up. Though practices of surveillance date back to the 19th century, there is a new intensity and ubiquity to them today. Think of transnational transparency regimes (Basel III), think of new EU regulations concerning identification in payments technologies, think of credit card transaction leaks that are quickly de-anonymised by researchers. These developments foreground the fact that technologies of accounting, scoring, and subjectivation are at the core of digital and mobile network media now. How can we think about the new distributedness and temporalisation of monetary practices? And how does machine learning transform monetary valuation, algo-trading, fintech platforms, their APIs, and financial decision-making? As regimes that automatically intervene in real-time transactions, such technologies establish, perpetuate, and remediate “orders of worth”. Of course, this desire for automation has been part of every computerisation movement. But we also recognise that money often serves as a medium of heteromation and dis-automation. Financial surveillance is frequently accompanied by infrastructural frictions and calls for accountability. We want to hear about practices that explore the seams and ruptures, the moments of break down and manual intervention.

3. Aesthetics of Financial Flows

There is a rich tradition of visualising financial flows going all the way back to the 1920s. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, understanding the often opaque operations of finance suddenly became more urgent. Visualisation practices have since been taken up by a broad array of artists and activists. By following internet cables, dissecting financial architecture, and mapping the timelines of flash crashes, these maps have given us renewed insights into a notoriously complex and incredibly high speed sector. But what do we do after the mapping is over? Are there routes from the visual to the political? How can knowledge of these systems lead to new regulation, local action and increased agency?

4. Blockchains Beyond Fintech

Beyond the cryptocurrency hype of the last decade, the underlying principles and technologies known as the blockchain have now become widely dispersed. From health to academic research, energy to governance, copyright law to fine art, actors and organisations in various social fields are exploring the blockchain. Unleashed from its niche origins in cryptography and electronic currency, the blockchain’s data decentralisation is now held up as the solution for every problem. Sustainable energy? Blockchain! Higher quality research? Blockchain! Fairer globalisation? Blockchain!

Today the blockchain is everywhere. But just as important as its ubiquity is its perceived maturity. No longer the risky venture of the startup or the experimental tinkering of cypherpunks, blockchains are quickly becoming part of commercial platforms with significant investment that implement the concept at scale. Alongside these corporate implementations, the blockchain has also found its way into civil society, grassroots initiatives, NGOs, and art institutions. Yet the ‘blockchain’ is ambiguous and open-ended. Whether impressive, peculiar, or even corrupt, each implementation asserts its own version of what a decentralised data practice means and what it should be used for. In this varied landscape, the tensions that make up its ‘trustless’ transactions—secure and transparent yet anonymous—become blurry or sometimes even mutually exclusive. In practice, excluding trust might require consent, or registration might trump anonymity. As new flavours and understandings of the blockchain proliferate, how can the blockchain be used “for the good”? And what are the real sociotechnical problems we need to address?

5. European Populism and the Geopolitics of Finance 

Like many places in the world, Europe is witnessing the establishment of a new political landscape where populism plays a major role. How does finance feature within this? How would the 5 Star Movement in Italy establish national sovereignty over the financial sector? How does the ECB and Brussels respond to all of this? And what is the state of Eastern European nationalism in this post-Brexit age? From its libertarian origins to our contemporary moment of alt-right nationalism, cryptocurrencies have always been as much a political vehicle as a strict medium of financial exchange.

6. Monetising the Social – Socialising Money

The monetisation of the social is proliferating far beyond the crude ad-based models on early social media platforms. From influencer marketing on Instagram to third party app economies built on platforms and the constant re-valorisation of social media data in rankings, ratings and analytics, we ask how emergent digital infrastructures monetise the social today. At the same time, we seem to be witnessing an emerging socialisation of money, from financial literacy communities to DIY investment schemes and financial products that cut out the middleman of the bank. How will our social lives be the foundation of new economic models and how is the socialisation of money informing the financial sector?

About MoneyLab

The MoneyLab network was founded by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam. MoneyLab considers, critiques and intervenes within our new digital economy. It is a network of artists, activists, and geeks experimenting with forms of financial democratisation in contexts such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, cashless society, and Universal Basic Income. We question persistent beliefs, from Calvinist austerity, growth, and up-scaling, to trustless automated decision-making and freedom on the dark web, from (anarcho-)capitalist dreams of the days of yore to the special sauce of neoliberal entrepreneurialism and its right-wing libertarian counterparts.

The black box of finance has been etched into the imagination of the public and there has rarely been a more generous context to manifest working alternatives for the 99%. Cooperative platforms, decentralised technologies and direct democracy movements indicate profound attempts to rebalance the distribution of wealth and power. As resistance towards poverty, precarity, tax havens, algorithmic speculation, and financial crimes grows, the challenge ahead is to find ways to improve and sustain such financial experiments and to intervene in current debates both inside and outside of our established political systems.

Before arriving in Siegen, MoneyLab has included 5 international conferences and 2 globally distributed readers:

MoneyLab #1 – Coining Alternatives: Amsterdam, 2014
MoneyLab #2 – Economies of Dissent: Amsterdam, 2015
MoneyLab Reader: An Intervention in Digital Economy, 2015
MoneyLab #3 – Failing Better: Amsterdam, 2016
MoneyLab Reader #2: Overcoming the Hype, 2018
MoneyLab #4 – Art, Culture, and Financial Activism: London, 2018
MoneyLab #5 – Matters of Currency: Buffalo, NY, 2018

Practical Information

Moneylab #6 will take place from 7-8 March 2019 at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Unteres Schloß 1, 57072 Siegen. Further information about the schedule, directions and accommodations in Siegen will be released soon.

For questions about the event, please email:

We can issue letters of invitation to help you apply for travel grants.


Twitter handle: #inframoney

Organised by

Carolin Gerlitz, Sebastian Gießmann, Inte Gloerich, Geert Lovink and Ronja Trischler.

MoneyLab #6 is a collaboration between the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam (NL) and the Cooperative Research Centre “Media of Cooperation”, Siegen (DE).

Elemente einer Praxistheorie der Medien

Koordinieren Delegieren Registrieren/IdentifizierenDas Interesse dieses Texts gilt einem praxistheoretischen Vokabular, das sowohl für die Geschichte digitaler Medien geeignet ist als auch für die Erforschung rezenter digitaler Medienkulturen, ihrer Öffentlichkeiten und Infrastrukturen. Die folgenden Ausführungen adressieren daher einerseits durch Praktiken hervorgebrachte Eigenschaften und andererseits analytisch bestimmbare sozio- und kulturtechnische Charakteristika von Medien, die sich aus den Gebrauchsformen heraus verallgemeinern lassen.

PDF-Datei des Artikels (Lizenz: CC BY-NC-ND).

Erschienen in der Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft 19 (2018), S. 95-109.

Money, Credit, and Digital Payment 1971/2014: From the Credit Card to Apple Pay

NFC terminal with iPhone 6, video still, 2014The article intertwines the history of the American credit card, its standardization, and interactional realization with the latest developments in payment systems. Understanding both credit cards and systems like Apple Pay or blockchain-based applications as part of an administrative longue durée, it argues for a different understanding of the Internet of Things. It should be understood both as a technical-informational and as an accounting infrastructure, with tensions arising between both segments.

Check out the full text, published in Administration and Society’s special issue on ICT@Administration at

Lehrveranstaltungen im Sommersemester 2018

Medien-Gutscheine in einer Drogerie, 2018Es wird ein aufregendes Sommersemester: Im Bachelor werden aus den Siegener „Einführungen in die Medienwissenschaft“ nun thematische Seminare. Der Einführungskurs ist ein Kunststück für sich, denn er muss die handwerklichen Dinge mit der inhaltlichen Diskussion verbinden. Ziel ist das Schreiben der ersten eigenen wissenschaftlichen Hausarbeit, mit allem was dazugehört: Eine Fragestellung finden, Material generieren und sortieren, Schreiben.

Im Master unterrichte ich „Theorien des Geldes“ – ein Kurs, auf den ich mich wirklich sehr freue. Denn man kann sagen, dass dieser klassische Gegenstand der Medien- und Kulturtheorie in den letzten Jahren wenig Aufmerksamkeit im Fach erfahren hat. Ausnahmen wie Jens Schröters und Anna Echterhölters Arbeiten bestätigen hier eher die Regel. Auch aus diesem Grund versucht das Seminar ein Update in Richtung „digitales Geld“ – ohne vorauszusetzen, dass es dieses überhaupt gibt. Wie verstehen wir Geld im Zeitalter der Kryptowährungen?

Ebenfalls wieder für alle Master-Studierende geöffnet ist die „Werkstatt Praxistheorie“, in der aktuelle medien- und sozialtheoretische Fragestellungen mit prominenten Vortragsgästen diskutiert werden. Zu Gast sind im Sommersemester die Soziologin Silvia Gherardi, die Wissenschaftsforscherin Natasha Myers, die Kunsthistorikerin Ann-Sophie Lehmann und der Literaturwissenschaftler Carlos Spoerhase.

PS. Dieser Blogpost wird laufend aktualisiert.