Spencer Kaplan receives David Hakken Prize Honorable Mention

September 21, 2023

PhD Student Spencer Kaplan was awarded Honorable Mention in the David Hakken Graduate Student Paper Prize by the AAA Committee for the Anthropology of Computing (CASTAC). Spencer received the Honorable Mention for his paper titled  “Facing Blockchain’s Double Bind: Trustless Technologies and ‘IRL Friends’ in Berlin’s NFT Community.” The award committee described the paper:

Through vivid ethnography and layered argumentation, this paper examines what the author calls the “double bind of blockchain”: that in order to build technologies that allegedly remove the need for interpersonal trust, deep relations of trust are needed to create and maintain the conditions of possibility for these technologies. The paper interweaves clear description of the technologies and philosophies undergirding NFTs and blockchain with ethnographic analysis of the Berlin NFT enthusiasts, artists, and community builders. It does so while drawing on anthropological discussions around trust to argue how this double bind is nonetheless more productive than contradictory for blockchain actors so invested in a so-called “trustless” technology and its futures. Namely, this dilemma enables them to hold onto the futures they desire despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges they face pursuing it. The prize committee found the argumentation careful and thought-provoking and appreciated the discussion of the challenges of in-person and virtual field methods. As the author’s interlocutors grapple with the dilemmas of trustless technologies that for the most part do not yet exist, the paper successfully considers the predicaments of a popular if still emergent topic.