Bitcoin and the unbanked; an ethnographic study of financial inclusion through cryptocurrencies

This study has been a long time in the works and I am excited to invite you to be curious and watch this space. Through RMIT, and in collaboration with Professor Supriya Singh, Professor Heather Horst and Dr Greg Adamson, I am launching an ethnographic study of bitcoin use.

Bitcoin is a digital cash, exchanged through a peer-to-peer payment system, that is designed to bypass state controls and operate outside of the banking system. We are interested in whether this online currency may support financial inclusion and how its use impacts the conditions of trust, security and privacy of money.

For this study, we are conducting an ethnography to provide detailed insights into the social experience, motivations and perspectives that people hold in using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. You can read more about our research directions for this study in our recently published article, “An ethnography of Bitcoin; towards a future research agenda” .

The preliminary study will run for three months, starting from January 2017.

The ethnography will be conducted across the environments where bitcoin use and discussion about its use are “native”. This means that we will be engaging in online environments as well as attending events and meetings where cryptocurrency use, such as Bitcoin, is the primary focus.

We anticipate interviewing up to 50 people, including key community members, on their experiences of using Bitcoin. Here is the link where you can download a pdf of the plain language statement for the study here (pls-and-consent_bitcoin-study). It describes what the interviews will cover and provides the consent form.

Why are we doing this study now? This research is being conducted because there is currently limited understanding of the use of Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies more generally, across diverse socio-cultural contexts. It is timely because alternative payment systems gain more appeal during periods of economic instability and resulting waves of political backlash from disaffected groups.

As we are based in Melbourne, Australia, we will start here, but will also attend events wherever we end up over the course of 2017.  This will include other major cities in Australia, but is also likely to include major cities in the US, such as New York, London (UK), major cities in India and potentially a couple of locations Africa.

This study is currently unfunded, however if you would like to support the project, I have launched a crowdfunding campaign over at the Experiment where you can donate. This campaign will run for the month of January (2017) and I hope to gain financial support to do the data collection.  From this seed funding and early findings, we will then be able to make a case for furthering this study to the global scale and scope that it deserves.

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