Commentators are often dismissive of Bitcoin buyers, writing them off as naive victims of a fraudulent bubble. But if we look more carefully, we can trace the history of Bitcoin through five key narratives. Each has drawn in a different group of buyers and in doing so contributed to its long-term growth in value.
My book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy argues that we should explain the economy in terms of complexes of appropriative practices, while my earlier work stresses that causal influence is exerted by entities – people, objects, and social entities like organisations (which are in turn composed of people and often objects too). In this post I propose to explain the relation between the two – and the explanation is of wider importance because it leads us to think about how some social structures can be built on or from other social structures.
Neither the traditional economist’s focus on firms in markets nor the Marxist political economist’s focus on exploitation of wage labour by capital is a viable way of understanding the real economy. This posts proposes some steps towards an alternative view.
This post reproduces text from the opening pages of my 2016 book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy. The central original contribution of this book is to propose a new framework that enables us both to see and to analyse a vast range of diverse economic forms, and to illustrate that framework by applying it to cases in the contemporary digital economy.
Google’s business hybridises a novel form of giving with a novel form of advertising in one of many economic forms that simply do not fit with the old understandings of the economy: forms that we can make more sense of as complexes of interacting economic practices.
Conventional ways of understanding the economy – including critical approaches – are deeply flawed, and we need an alternative approach: a political economy of practices.