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ISD7: Crypto-Feudalism Working Group


Central New York hosts the world’s first fossil fuel power plant dedicated to mining Bitcoin—a “proof-of-work” cryptocurrency which has been seen as either heralding or resisting an emerging “neo-feudal” mode of production. We aim to interrogate and develop this “crypto-feudalism” thesis.

Open to New People

Active since: 2022

  • Cornell University
  • Hobart & William Smith Colleges

Collaborative Goals

This working group will cultivate comradely and interdisciplinary reflection on the emerging socio-cultural and political-economic implications of cryptocurrencies (especially energy intensive “proof-of-work” assets such as Bitcoin) and related “Web3” technologies. We will focus particularly on the ways in which such technological developments may or may not indicate a transition from capitalist social reproduction to a new form of feudal rentiership or manorialism.

Social theorists such as Jodi Dean, Cedric Durand, Yanis Varoufakis, and Joel Kotkin have recently argued that our current social order bears numerous resemblances to the feudal mode of production which preceded modern capitalism. Though they share a family resemblance, however, these various visions of an emerging neo/techno/digital-feudal socioeconomic order each emphasize different trends and causal narratives. Our initial substantive goal is to put these various “x-feudalisms” into productive conversation, mapping the contours, shortcomings, and insights of each, so as to fashion a more useful explanatory synthesis.

Our second substantive goal will be to collectively elucidate how the emerging “crypto” economy of digital assets (Bitcoin, Ethereum, NFTs, Smart contracts, etc.) relates to or perhaps counteracts this broader feudalizing process. These explorations and their results will be ultimately documented in an documented public conversation (see below) and, in the longer-term, a collective online-accessible publication, such as an edited volume or special issue, the specific form of which will be determined by the participants.

The working group’s inaugural activity will be a one-day symposium hosted at Cornell University in Spring 2023. The workshop will consist of two events. The first event will be a public conversation/debate between Jodi Dean and an invited interlocutor (potential invitees listed below), followed by an audience Q&A session. The second event will be a closed roundtable discussion led by Owen Marshall, bringing together stakeholders involved in a local controversy regarding the social and environmental impacts of bitcoin mining operations in New York state. The roundtable will provide an opportunity to empirically explore and assess the themes brought up by the public event.

The symposium will be co-organized by Jodi Dean, Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Owen Marshall, Visiting Assistant Professor in Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. The public aspects of this symposium will be recorded, transcribed, and made available online for those unable to attend in person. Following the Symposium, Dean, Marshall, and the invited scholar will discuss possible directions to take the working group forward.

Group Organizers

Jodi Dean

Professor, Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Owen Marshall

Postdoctoral Associate, Departments of Science & Technology Studies and Information Science, Cornell University

Group Members

  • Owen Marshall
  • Jodi Dean
  • Britt Paris
  • David Golumbia

Group Outcomes

The major impacts of our event were the development of interpersonal professional connections among Corridor institution members, including undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. The core interlocutors of this event (Dean, Marshall, Paris, and Golumbia) are in continued conversation about ongoing collaborations, specifically regarding the concept of "hinterlandization" in the geography of neo-feudalizing techno-politics. The event itself raised a number of new ideas and questions, which will continue to be explored by this group and its associated members.