[Recap] TiM Seminar 2022-23 “Imagining Feminist Cryptoeconomics” – Inte Gloerich (HVA/UU) and Ania Molenda (Amateur Cities)
by Chris van der Vegt
The last Transmission in Motion seminar of 2022-2023 was organised by the Feminist Economies Collective, consisting of Ania Molenda (Amateur Cities) and Inte Gloerich (HvA and UU) in the theatre space of the muntstraat/kromme nieuwegracht. In their highly interactive workshop, they gave the participants tools to imagine futures surrounding blockchain technology wherein they were encouraged to break away from hypercapitalist thinking that surrounds blockchain technology in popular debates. Participants were implored to think about how blockchain technology might be employed to serve their own values rather than those of big capital.
At the start of the workshop, all participants were asked to pick a chair and form a big circle. Although the set-up of the room (several tables each adorned with a stack of paper and stationary) suggested there would be an element of group work in this session, it started with a plenary introduction. First, Ania and Inte introduced themselves and explained their background and their platform Feminist Economies Collective. Next, they gave a short explanation of the mechanics behind blockchain technology and the services and products currently associated with them. This included cryptocurrencies, NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) and DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations). After the speakers and the topic were introduced, every participant in the session was asked to share their name and a technology that was nostalgic for them.
Thereafter, the group did a collective brainstorm session where everyone was asked to stand up. We were going to come up with potential values for the blockchain application that we would come up with in the next step of the workshop. We took turns going down the circle where each of us had to name a value that was adjacent to the one named by the person who came before them. Participants were also allowed to pass. We went around the circle three times in which values such as ‘mobility’ ‘equity’ ‘freedom’ ‘time to rest’ ‘transformation’ ‘more than human’ were proposed. When we finished the third round, Inte and Ania noted that none of us had mentioned ‘profit’, ‘efficiency’ or ‘productivity’, concepts that are often dominant in discourses surrounding blockchain and crypto technology. The participants were then invited to write down values that had stuck with them on geometrically shaped pieces of paper. These values were stalled out on a large table in the back of the room.
When we had written out our contributions, it was time to split up into groups and imagine how the values we had come up with could (or couldn’t) be applied to blockchain technology. To narrow down our speculations, we were asked to pick one of the five themes that were introduced earlier in the session: economy, finance, truth, proof and autonomy. There were four groups in total, one of which chose economy, one chose autonomy and two picked proof. I personally participated in the economy group. The first step for our thinktank was to decide on our core values. Our initial picks were circularity and justice. The next step was to start associating with the values we picked. One of our group members brought up a collectively owned solar panel project in their neighbourhood, which ended up being the object we chose for the following step. There we were asked to formulate a sentence by filling in our values and the context we decided on. In our case, this produced the following questions:
Imagine a cryptofeminist future where the economy in solar panels <context> is based on circularity and justice <values>. What role does blockchain play? Does blockchain still exist in its current form? Does it mutate? […] Can you sketch such a future? Think of organisations, facilities, spaces of economic exchange, social rules/norms, ect.
We started to think about a solar panel project that involved blockchain technology. What we came up with was a system where a group of people collectively owns a set of solar panels and this ownership is registered on a blockchain. We then had to decide whether we wanted this to be a local or an international project and decided to opt for a locally owned project, which is where ‘community’ was added to our list of values. Since we knew that blockchain consumes a lot of energy, we decided that the energy produced by the solar panels would go into supporting the blockchain technology that enabled the collective ownership. The future we came up with ended up as an absurdist self-feeding machine that, although circular, did not serve anything other than itself. Rather than propose blockchain as a solution for a problem, this idea served to point toward the pitfalls of technosolutionism. Do the benefits of blockchain outweigh the downsides? Are these new technologies actually beneficial or are we using them for the sake of it? The fourth and final step in the process was to visualise the future we came up with. To aid us in this process, a lot of printed drawings and shapes of different sizes were available to us. Still, our group opted to draw the concept out, since we had come up with a rather concrete housing set up.
Once the groups had all finished their process, we reconvened at the large table in the back that also hosted all the values we had written down. The groups were asked to place the notes and illustration for their imagined future among the relevant values. The groups took turns reporting on their discussions and the ideas they had come up with. Some of the sentences formulated by other groups were ‘Imagine a cryptofeminist future where autonomy in the global refugee crisis is based on mobility, what role does the blockchain play?’ This lead the group to think about blockchain as a means to decentralise identity documents such as passports, making them universal rather than tied to a particular country. The noted risks of this implementation of blockchain were that there is currently no equal access to blockchain technology which would create inequalities in who would benefit from this system. This decentralised aspect of the technology might also lead to a loss of privacy and increased surveillance. Another group imagined how the unpayable colonial debt could be put on the blockchain. They thought about this in conjunction with remembering and forgetting: what histories and debts do we hang onto and which do we let go off? When does the process of forgiving and accepting end? After the groups got the chance to explain their ideas and respond to each other, the session was wrapped up and we celebrated a year of inspiring seminars with some drinks.