About this Research Topic
Blockchain technologies are increasingly proposed as new ways to address social and ecological challenges in the Global South, including achieving sustainable development targets, making humanitarian and development aid more transparent, providing secure identities and asset registries in unstable contexts, making food and other supply chains fairer for producers, and creating new models for conservation and resource governance. However, while a growing range of blockchain platforms aim to bring about positive change in the Global South, such enterprises often take apolitical approaches to their framing of development ‘problems’ and position technology as a ‘solution’ to complex challenges, ignoring the ways in which data-led capitalism more broadly is having disproportionate effects on the global poor. At the same time, there are also more radical visions which emphasise the tendency of blockchains to shift power relations in the current global economy through disintermediation and radical transparency, bringing about a more equitable approach to global economic relations, the production and exchange of value, and the governance and use of natural resources, and offering a powerful corrective to the historic structural forces that produce global uneven development. However, these claims remain empirically and conceptually underexplored, particularly in developing country contexts, and often overreach their visions of socio-technical transformation.
This special issue aims to understand the ways in which blockchains may (or may not) contribute to positive social and ecological change in the Global South, and if so, in what forms. We wish to bring technologists and designers into conversation with international development practitioners and theorists, political geographers and social anthropologists. We invite research papers and case studies which shed light on the specific ethical, political and socio-technical issues inherent in positioning blockchains as solutions for development and ecological challenges. We particularly welcome papers with interdisciplinary perspectives, those which explore specific lived realities, contexts and cases, rather than expectations and ideas, and those which contextualize blockchain within a wider field of data-driven innovation.
We invite papers around these themes:
• Actors: human and non-human agents; platform builders/ entrepreneurs; regulators; NGOs and donors; beneficiaries; data regulators; new types of institutions and ways of governing;
• Concepts: value and valuation; disintermediation; trust; distributed ledgers, formal and informal exchange, conditionality;
• Spaces and places: The material and conceptual geographies of blockchains (North, South, global, local); spatial concepts (supply chains, distributed, direct); virtual places (such as interfaces); technological and material infrastructure;
• Power and accountability: economic, cultural and political relationships and responsibilities between actors in development and sustainability that might be understood in new ways though blockchains.
Articles published within this Research Topic in 2019 are eligible for the $10,000 “Yun Family Frontiers in Blockchain Prize".
For more details, please see our blog post here:
Keywords: blockchain, sustainable development, supply chains, Global South, international development, anthropology, geography, politics
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.