Communication Blockchain and Communication
Peter A. Chow-White, Jennifer Mentanko, Philippa Adams, Julie Frizzo-Barker
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0247


Blockchain is an emerging technology that communication scholars have recently started investigating. It is a protocol for a decentralized, digital ledger that facilitates peer-to-peer value transfers of all sorts. Scholars and thought leaders across various disciplines have framed it as a revolutionary technology, potentially disruptive on a global scale—or, from a continuum perspective, as the fifth computing paradigm after mainframes, PCs, the internet, and mobile/social networking. Due to its short history and the burgeoning interest in blockchain across academia and industry, a number of the books and papers in this entry are from other fields such as law, business, or information studies. They are included here because they either inform issues in our field or offer related avenues for communication researchers to integrate into their research agendas. Research on some of the underlying elements of the technology goes back decades. However, Satoshi Nakamoto introduced the first public blockchain, Bitcoin, in 2009 following a white paper outlining the initial Bitcoin protocol. There is some controversy over Nakamoto because this person (or persons) has never publicly revealed his or her identity. In its short history, blockchain has rapidly developed from its libertarian grassroots and creation of decentralized digital currencies to Smart Contracts and social applications that remove the need for other intermediaries, such as governments, banks, accountants, and lawyers. For instance, blockchain advocates cite examples of how the technology can bring lower costs, greater speed, and increased transparency to processes such as voting, supply chain management, and sending overseas remittances. Blockchain has captured public attention as a source of both skepticism and enthusiasm; however, blockchain remains an early-stage domain of research in terms of theory development, methodological diversity, and empirically grounded work. Blockchain is important to the field of communication because, as with the rise of the internet, it creates new social patterns of connection, value transfer, and meaning making. As communication scholars, our investigations of emerging technologies tend to begin with the questions “what is it?” and “what can it do?” That is followed by a deeper dive into understanding the new affordances and constraints these technologies will introduce to people’s experiences of everyday life, organizations, and social change. These experiences can differ greatly from the West to the Global South. The research presented here acknowledges how some of those differences are already evident in relation to blockchain. It begins with a general overview of books and articles, then outlines the major innovation milestones of blockchain, and concludes by exploring a diverse range of themes pertinent to communication research.

General Overviews

As is typical of new technological innovations, much of the early literature on blockchain is exploratory and describes what blockchain is, what it does, and how it can be applied. This section includes the best of this early literature such as Swan 2015, Mougayar and Buterin 2016 (both cited under Books) and Segendorf 2014 (cited under Articles), as well as more recent work published within the past three years. Each piece was chosen to provide readers with a basis for an understanding of the technology that can be applied to the field of communication.

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