Ideology, attitudinal positioning, and the blockchain: a social semiotic approach to understanding the values construed in the whitepapers of blockchain start-ups

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Abstract

Recent work on algorithmic bias has shown that understanding the values embedded in technology design processes is important for avoiding social harm. This paper explores the attitudes construed in whitepapers of blockchain technology start-ups. Blockchain technology is a relatively new phenomenon that has informed discourses about the future of governance and economics in relation to the internet. This study aims to understand the values discursively construed in the whitepapers of four blockchain start-ups: Steemit, Creativechain, Democracy Earth, and Bitnation. It adopts a corpus linguistics approach, and uses the Appraisal framework (Martin, J. R., and P. R. R. White. 2005. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. New York: Palgrave Macmillan) to analyse the evaluative meanings expressed in the whitepaper dataset. This analysis reveals that the blockchain start-ups manifest shared values around the concepts of decentralisation, trust in algorithms, and trust in individuals over institutions. The start-ups enact different political orientations, expressing ideals related to the digital commons, cyber-libertarianism, and capitalism. The corpus-based linguistic analysis used in this study offers a method that may be applicable to other areas of technology discourse where whitepapers and design documents tend to embed covert political and ideological positions.

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Inwood, O., & Zappavigna, M. (2021). Ideology, attitudinal positioning, and the blockchain: a social semiotic approach to understanding the values construed in the whitepapers of blockchain start-ups. Social Semiotics. https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2021.1877995

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