First Advisor

David Kinsella

Term of Graduation

Spring 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science


Political Science




Bitcoin, Blockchains (Databases)



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 97 pages)


Bitcoin is the first digital medium to allow global, "purely peer-to-peer" exchange. At the height of the Great Recession, Bitcoin's pseudonymous creator introduced the electronic cash to sidestep political and economic institutions. Today, it is praised as an opportunity for the unbanked, a liberating force, and a pioneering technology. It is also infamously associated with volatility, illicit activities, and profligate energy consumption.

Bitcoin has also flown under the radar of political science, whereas computer scientists, economists, and legal scholars have written extensively about it. To address the gap in the literature, I describe Bitcoin as an actor in global affairs, explain how Bitcoin and blockchain technology work, and discuss why Bitcoin is relevant to political science as the archetypal case of blockchain technology. I argue that Bitcoin is a form of contentious politics uniquely suited to the twenty-first century.

Examining Bitcoin as a form of contentious politics sheds light on how a purportedly borderless technology has actually fared in subverting state authority: not entirely well. Nonetheless, Bitcoin has succeeded in at least two respects: it is an unprecedented form of untraceable electronic cash that coordinates unrivaled levels of computing resources from voluntary contributors and it has become a resilient, global social movement. As an archetype of blockchain technology, Bitcoin inspires research of blockchain's capacity to facilitate collective action, uses in international cooperation and competition, and prospects for human development. The thesis concludes with a set of implications for blockchain research and policy.


© 2020 Jim Robert Mignano

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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