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Distributed Ledger Technologies, Value Accounting, and the Self Sovereign Identity


Abstract and Figures

Technological activists are designing blockchains and other distributed ledger technologies to challenge extractive value-accounting and identity management in global capitalism. This paper investigates how the new possibilities afforded through distributed ledger technology make possible an alternative future of generative value accounting and self-sovereign identity practices.
Content may be subject to copyright.
published: 23 June 2020
doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2020.00029
Frontiers in Blockchain | 1June 2020 | Volume 3 | Article 29
Edited by:
Alan Sherriff,
Consultant, United Kingdom
Reviewed by:
Marc Rocas-Royo,
Open University of Catalonia, Spain
Gary Nuttall,
University of Nicosia, Cyprus
Sarah Manski
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Blockchain for Good,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Blockchain
Received: 29 January 2020
Accepted: 11 May 2020
Published: 23 June 2020
Manski S (2020) Distributed Ledger
Technologies, Value Accounting, and
the Self Sovereign Identity.
Front. Blockchain 3:29.
doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2020.00029
Distributed Ledger Technologies,
Value Accounting, and the Self
Sovereign Identity
Sarah Manski*
Department of Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, United States
Technological activists are designing blockchains and other distributed ledger
technologies to challenge extractive value-accounting and identity management in global
capitalism. This paper investigates how the new possibilities afforded through distributed
ledger technology make possible an alternative future of generative value accounting and
self-sovereign identity practices.
Keywords: self-sovereign identity, blockchain, holochain, distributed ledger technology, critical accounting, social
movements, sociotechnical imaginary, value
“If power is increasingly leveraged through online and mobile infrastructures-both on the part of
movements and on the part of states-then some of the most important (and radical) movements will
emerge around the use of those powerful technologies in societies.” (Ilten and McInerney, 2019, p. 210).
The problem with the logic of capitalism is that everything, including healthy social relationships, a
stable climate, having meaning in life, etc. are only considered part of the value equation when
it impacts profit. Technological activists are rejecting the logic of capitalism and insisting on
creating a world where humans and living systems thrive, and therefore are developing new ways
to recognize value.
Valuation is a social process, and accounting is a social practice (Callon, 1998; Boltanski and
Thévenot, 2006; Callon et al., 2007; Knorr Cetina and Preda, 2012; Aspers and Dodd, 2015).
Technological systems have shaped accounting in every setting, including the construction of
markets, capital raising, algorithm pricing, digital platform services, and corporate organization.
Some of these transformations have been the subjects of intensive study; research on others is
lacking. This paper deals with new digital valuation technologies that could transform values and
valuations within institutions in which valuation takes place. The same technologies will allow for
the reclamation of our digital identities and real reputation, which is necessary for the trust required
for online organizing. Technological activists are gaining momentum in their mission to design and
use digital technologies for a world beyond capitalism. In this future, people, nature, and things are
not valued by the market, but rather by their capacity to further human flourishing and account
for planetary limitations. These efforts are part of three contemporary historical determinants
recognized by technological activists: first, the need to evade state repression; second, the need
to maximize limited resources; and third, the need to create effective institutional solutions despite
past failures to do just that.
The construction of each accounting technology is mortared by ideology (Dillard, 1991). The
dominant ideology of our age is capitalism. Everyday material technologies of accounting (written
Manski Creation of Critical Accounting Technology
reports, techniques, books of accounts, pictures, charts) make
possible the practice of capitalist governance and corresponding
modes of social control. Accounting technologies have material
agency within large sociotechnical networks because they enable
action at a distance (Robson, 1992), and they make “invisible”
objects visible (MacKenzie, 2009). Inscriptions of accounts enable
the modern state and institutions to “govern at a distance” and
make present things, ideas, and people in “centers of calculation”
(Latour, 1987; Miller, 1990).
“. . . accounting cannot be independent of its social conditions.
Under capitalism, the moving force of accounting lies in political
economy—in class contradictions. Accounting is made, in part,
by adjustment to the economic needs of the ruling class.”
(Catchpowle and Cooper, 1999, p. 712).
Tinker (1985) agrees that under capitalism accounting
technology is a “logic for appropriating material production,
“a way of rationalizing or explaining away the appropriation
of the production of one social class by members of another”
as “an intellectual and pragmatic tool in social domination”
(p. 100). This understanding of accounting calls on scholars
interested in building a world free of economic exploitation
to understand how social movements and the technologists
involved are creating new technologies of valuation and personal
identity reflecting an emancipatory imaginary of the future
beyond capitalism.
Dillard argues that a “fundamental change in the underlying
economic structure must occur before change can occur in
accounting technology” (p. 24), but what if technological activists
within social movements can reverse this historical process and
strategically radically redesign accounting technology; imbuing
new accounting technology with favorable affordances that give
it transformative material agency to fundamentally change the
economic structure? The strategic design of technology has
long been a part of activist repertoires. The use of value
accounting to demonstrate exploitation and inequality against
capitalist opponents is commonplace. It can be found among
trade unionists and socialists (Gallhofer and Haslam, 2003), anti-
sweatshop and fair-trade activists (Bartley and Child, 2014), anti-
corporate globalization campaigners (Juris, 2007), and others.
What is new in this historical moment are the emancipatory
affordances of modern digital systems of value accounting and
digital identity enabled by distributed ledger technologies or
DLTs (i.e., blockchain and holochain).
An outline of this paper follows (see Figure 1). Part 1 describes
the sociotechnical imaginary of a commons-oriented global social
movement. Part 2 reviews what we know about how value is
accounted for in capitalism, introduces a theoretical framework
for understanding socio-economic objects within capitalist
value accounting compared to commons value accounting, and
includes a discussion on the tendency in capitalism toward
increasing complexity. Part 3 discusses the affordances of
blockchain technology, how we might begin to use the material
agency of DLTs to shift the organization of value, and a
discussion of self-sovereign identity’s role in this process. Part
4 explores the possible futures of value accounting as glimpsed
FIGURE 1 | Transformation occurring within capitalism as social movements
combine with new technologies.
in the MetaCurrency project, Deep Wealth, Holochain, and the
distributed application (hApp) Personas. This paper concludes
with a vision of the future in which a global movement of
entrepreneurs, cooperative members, and technological activists
use a new form of value accounting to move beyond capitalism
and create the next system for the benefit of all.
Globally, hundreds of millions of people are rising and
demanding that more than profit be valued (Della Porta et al.,
2015). The determination of what is valuable is indicative of how
societies can stay together, and what is valued demonstrates our
collective social capacity and interdependence upon each other.
People create technologies enabling their vision of the future and
once created that technology does indeed expand what is possible
in the future. Blockchain technology and the post-blockchain
DLTs that followed the first Bitcoin blockchain (Nakamoto, 2008)
are excellent examples of how sociotechnical imaginaries are put
into practice through the design of new technologies.
The question here is, “How do distributed ledger technologies,
a new set of technologies that include blockchain and post-
blockchain systems, shape visions of the future, and how do these
visions in turn influence the construction of new technologies?”
Several approaches from the futures discourse could be taken to
study the social and institutional practice of value accounting.
For instance, causal layered analysis (CLA) could be useful
for mapping and analyzing a number of competing discourses
related to layers of worldview and metaphor (Inayatullah, 1998;
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Manski Creation of Critical Accounting Technology
Inayatullah and Milojevic, 2015), or future empirical research
could seek to quantify the multiple dimensions of trust within
each technological accounting system and how that impacts user
outcomes (Lander and Cooper, 2017). However, the advantage of
making use of the concept of the sociotechnical imaginary in this
theory paper is that it offers a framework for understanding how
a technologist’s vision of the ideal future influences their design
choices in the present (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009).
Jasanoff and Kim label technologist’s utopian vision of
the future the “sociotechnical imaginary” (2009). This phrase
incorporates the concept of the “sociotechnical” with that of
the imaginary. In the field of Science and Technology Studies
(STS) the term sociotechnical is used to indicate that technology
is neither wholly socially determined nor deriving from an
essential internal logic, “Technologies and technical practices
are understood as durable (but not immutable) assemblages of
social relation and technical artifacts” (Dunbar-Hester, 2019, p.
83). There is a lively discussion among technologists on how to
use distributed ledger technology to realize a collective vision
of a better future. The findings rely on grounded theory-based
interpretations of numerous formal and informal interviews with
technologists. Technologists shared an agreement on several
standard components of a global technological commonwealth,
the movement’s emancipatory sociotechnical imaginary (Manski,
2017). This shared imaginary consists of a post-capitalist
society where communities of mutual interest cooperate in the
construction of institutions of regenerative economic relations.
This movement of technologists has a strong faith in serendipity
because they believe the necessary pieces will fall together if the
correct intentions are directed outward and if the participants are
mindful of the opportunities that can be pulled inward. These
principles of technological design include:
Technological design should incorporate
planetary boundaries
Technological design should be modeled on natural
biological ecosystems
Technological design should enable the redefinition of value
(ex. Distributed Value Accounting1)
Technological design should enable radically democratic
coordination and governance
Technological design should allow for the growth of a
cooperative commons as the desirable future.
There is a renewal of interest among political economists and
others in the role the imagination plays in shaping our vision
of the future. Studies of future imaginaries have been conducted
in the fields of climate engineering, body enhancement (Roco
and Bainbridge, 2002), nanotechnology (Fiedeler et al., 2010),
and synthetic biology (Giese et al., 2014). Through the use
1See Manski, S. G., and Bauwens, M. (2020). Reimagining new socio-technical
economics through the application of distributed ledger technologies. Frontiers in
Blockchain. 2(29).
of our imagination and anticipatory thinking, we can build a
bridge from our current present to the desired future present.
When we make statements about the desired future, we are
making an intervention in the present (Lösch, 2006), because
future scenarios, once articulated, influence political debate and
policy decisions (Selin, 2007). It is essential to recognize that
people engaged in imagining the future bring to this process
their ideology, interests, and positions of power within society
(Brown et al., 2000). Every network architecture hides a power
structure, “we can be a lot more nuanced in the design and usage
of technologies by being explicit about the values we imprint in
our economic systems” (, 2019, p. 13). The dominant
future imaginary is capitalist, but a commons movement is
working on using blockchain technology to transform the nature
of capitalist value accounting.
This section briefly reviews the literature on how value is
currently accounted for under capitalism, including a discussion
on the tendency in capitalism toward increasing complexity.
As many researchers have observed, accounting is not neutral
nor separate from prevailing economic ideology (Knights and
Collinson, 1987; Catchpowle and Smyth, 2016). Critical to
capitalism, new accounting and production technologies and
organizational forms are invented to increase productivity,
reduce the costs of production and manage the resulting
processes and complexities (Cooper, 2015), “The only
characteristics of concern are those associated with changes
in the economic objects.” (Dillard, 1991, p. 20).
The logic of capitalism derives from the drive to maximize
profit (see Table 2). What is produced is driven by what can be
profitably sold on the market, and production decisions are made
by the quite small category of people—capitalists—who own
and control the means of production. The labor of production
is completed by wage laborers who must sell their labor to
capitalists to survive, as they receive bank-credit money in return
(McCarthy, 2018).
In Capital V1, Marx (2019) states what has value is only
that which can be used to produce commodities that can
be sold for profit in the market; this form of value is
called exchange value. Such a market can only work with the
existence of money as a material representation of value. It
is the circulation of money as capital, the transformation of
nature, and wage labor into commodities that have exchange
value that drives capitalist economies. Marx envisioned a
mechanization process that we now call modernization by which
scientific knowledge and technology come to be more important
factors in production. Competition inspires technological and
organizational innovations that make value unstable and
a “perpetually evolving inner connectivity (an internal or
dialectical relation) between value as defined in the realm
of circulation in the market and value as constantly being
re-defined through revolutions in the realm of production.”
(Harvey, 2018), “Forces of production and social relations—two
different sides of the development of the social individual—
appear to capital as mere means and are merely means for it
to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they
are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.”
(Marx, 1993 [1857-8], p. 705-6). Technological innovations also
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involve greater systemwide complexity, which carries its own
challenges in part because defining the concept of complexity
is a matter of debate (Pryor, 1996; Rosser, 1999). Hodgson
(2003) defines complexity as systemically interconnected and
interactive variety within a structured system, “By this definition,
increasing economic complexity means a growing diversity of
interactions between human beings and between people and their
technology.” (p. 472).
Early into the study of technology, Mumford (1996)
recognized that technologies represent complex layers of
objectified intentions that embody cultural artifacts into technical
systems. As technological systems change over time, the
original design choices gradually solidify and become viewed
as timeless. These systems become interlocked and exert
power over social systems and intuitions (Hughes, 1987).
Our institutions are challenged by increasing complexity,
and the digitization of the economy has accelerated this
process (DeSanctis and Poole, 1994). The interconnectedness
of complex systems makes outcomes more difficult to predict
and causes negative consequences (Penow, 1986; Grabowski and
Roberts, 1999). Massive amounts of information are available
irrespective of geographic boundaries, and increasingly people
have access to participation in a formal economy, which is
governed by automated algorithmic systems communicating
interdependently with each other. Humanity has attempted to
solve coordination challenges in complex networks with systems
of hierarchy, including monarchies, corporations, militaries,
and representative democracies with layers of bureaucracy.
Yet, current economic and governance patterns are proving
inadequate (Duit and Galaz, 2008). Markets have been proposed
as a solution, but current market approaches are proving
inadequate, because markets tend to have limited or irregular
communication patterns that do not contain information about
all that is valued by society such as care work, environmental
beauty, leisure time, etc. (Doane, 2002).
Price communicates across complex supply chains
incredibly well, but the price of something is an oversimplified
communicator of value. For example, when the price of copper
goes up, the price of goods that use copper and the price of
services that make use of those goods tend to go up as well. At the
end of the line, a consumer can sense the difference between a
supply chain that makes use of copper and one that makes use of
a cheaper alternative because of the difference in sticker price at
the point of purchase; the process by which “the invisible hand”
functions (Hayek, 1945). However, other forms of information,
such as the working conditions under which the copper was
mined, or the environmental record of the mining company
do not get communicated across the supply chain with nearly
the same level of fidelity. This imbalance in the composability
of price information vs. other forms of information leads to
larger-scale effects that amount to a race to the bottom. The fact
that price is the dominant form of information traveling with
this level of efficacy is a challenge for technological activists and
points toward potential technological solutions.
To overcome this problem, technological activists have asked,
is it possible to increase the adaptive capacity of value accounting
not just to single organizations but of markets more generally?
The conclusion that many have arrived at is that what is needed
is more rich and varied forms of information to be not only
communicable but also composable. Currently, the use of dollars
is the only value metric that is highly composable across contexts
(Krafel, 1999; Harris-Braun and Brock, 2018). Activists argue that
what is needed are other ways that individuals and communities
can communicate about value in ways that can be composed
across contexts because whether something is valuable depends
on the context.
There is a tension here with the recognition that value
judgments are always communicated within specific relationship
contexts. And yet, it can be useful to have that information be
composable beyond those specific contexts and can also end up
altering the dynamic of that initial relationship in the future.
For example, there is now pressure for restaurants to create
photogenic food that will make a nice picture on Instagram.
Matt Schutte, Holochain Director of Communications, argues,
“In order to thrive we need to create value accounting systems
that increase internal complexity.” He is part of a movement
of technologists using ideas drawn from the field of cybernetics
to explore new technologically enabled protocol cooperativism
accounting systems.
Organizational theory states that organized systems must
adapt to their environment to survive (Lawrence and Lorsch,
1967; Aldrich, 1979). Ashby’s (1961) Law of Requisite Variety,
presupposes that “for any system to be stable, the number
of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or
equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.”
Activists argue that we need new ways to coordinate in an
increasingly complex global system. Technological systems will
enable advanced forms of social cooperation that form the
principles of a new political economy, a global technological
commonwealth. Their socio-technical imaginary of the economy
is one in which the primary role of production is to meet
the needs of the community; the productive assets are held
in common under democratic control; people work because it
provides meaning in their lives, and; money is a mutual credit
system specific to the community’s needs.
This section explores the social movements of the global
technological commonwealth using new technologies
strategically to shift value accounting to move beyond capitalism
to a commons-based economic system that regenerates
both people and the planet. The commons can be managed
sustainably by local communities of peers when communities
communicate to build standard protocols and rules that
ensure their sustainability (Ostrom, 1990). Distributed ledger
technologies can be designed for the creation of self-sustaining
commons economies where all participants profit according to
the value that they produce rather than trying to conform to
the capitalist economy. These are the cyber-physical commons
powered by blockchain networks, which are designed to align
user incentives toward maintaining the system. Miners earn
tokens, developers hold the tokens hoping their efforts will raise
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their value, and users purchase tokens creating demand and pay
transaction fees.
Open shared ledgers are a key mutual coordination
mechanism to shift open-source coordination from software
to manufacturing. Blockchain and distributed ledgers generally
enable open and contributive ecosystem accounting (such as
practiced by SENSORICA (2019), REA (resource—event—
agent), which let us see flows in shared circular economies
involving multiple players, and biocapacity accounting, which is
based on a direct vision of the flows of matter and energy. These
types of contributory accounting systems promote fairness,
openness, transparency, security, and environmental limits. The
current state of the blockchain world is one of fragmentation,
but the tools are in development for the creation of interoperable
P2P ledgers.
For example, members of the Giveth team are using
blockchain technology for good by building a toolkit for creating
these new community economies. The project is called the
Commons Stack and is a collaboration with BlockScience, a
Complex Systems Engineering R&D firm. The Commons Stack
is a project started in 2019 that aims to create community tools
to improve decentralized coordination around shared goals. In
these “community commons,” blockchain technology is used
to align economic incentives with each communities’s values
and scale these previously underfunded communal efforts into
effective networks for good. They believe the growth of the
commons will be accelerated through access to an open-source
library of modular, customizable, and interoperable components
enabling purpose-driven communities to unite around shared
goals (Figure 2).
(Figure 2. The Commons Stack is building a library of
tools for context-specific methods of governance, incentivization,
accountability, monitoring, and initialization using holistic
system simulations. Used with permission. Graphic by Jeff
Emmet, published in “Commons Stack System Overview”).
The Commons Stack project has identified components for
what they term a “Minimum Viable Commons,” to provide
essential functionality in coordinating a group around raising
and allocating funds, making decisions, and measuring impact.
The first component is the “Augmented Bonding Curve,
providing continuous funding for a commons initiative through
community transvestment, with growing academic foundations
for this new economic tool. The second is a transparent
and accountable proposal service, which they call the “Giveth
Proposal Engine.” The third is a novel process for continuous
decision making modeled off the mechanics of a neuron firing
in the brain, called “Conviction Voting.” And, finally, a means to
monitor and measure the value produced in these communities,
they term the “Commons Analytics Dashboard,” which they
see leading to a future of Computer Aided Governance.
The most important aspect of the Commons Stack is their
emphasis on Token Engineering, including the use of an
open-source sophisticated system modeling and simulation tool
called CAD.
The Commons Stack is using the emerging discipline of token
engineering to design technological improvements to streamline
community fundraising and decision making, lowering the
barriers for groups with shared goals to operate as distributed
protocol cooperatives. They are doing this by producing design
patterns for community toolkits, a library of code specifications
and reference implementations. These designs will be chain-
agnostic and can be applied to data-centric and/or agent-
centric architectures (see Appendix 2). However, most developer
interest so far exists in the Ethereum ecosystem, so that is likely
where they will see their designs first implemented.
The Commons Stack could be the technological evolution
needed to enable the growth of the commons by enabling
crypto-economic systems of cooperation and governance. This
modular “cultural and technical stack for the commons,
could help communities reach shared goals by giving them
the tools to bootstrap necessary funding (often the main
hindrance to launching), and empowering that community with
proportionally weighted peer governance, real-time preference
signaling, and monitoring systems that respect complexity. By
creating a growing library of open source component blueprints
for governance, funding, and other critical infrastructure, the
Commons Stack enables communities to act as effective platform
cooperatives, co-owning and co-managing shared funds as
a commons. These components can be combined to create
intentional, circular, community-driven economies powered by
continuous funding streams and transparent decision making,
which will enable the threefold coordination of the post-
capitalist economy.
“In materializing, objectifying, and displaying the value of acts,
the publicity and formality of ritual approximate the way the
market objectifies the value of work but making the consequences
impossible to commoditize. One might even say that ritual de-
commoditizes value.” (Lambek, 2013, p. 154).
In the quote above, Lambek discusses how humans have
used ritual to define community value. Ritual returns a
sense of the sacred to human activity, while commodification
alienates humans from their labor. Technological activists
argue to move to a cooperative, post-capitalist planet; then
on the societal level, we must decommodify human energies
by treating our productive activity as sacred and ethical.
Macpherson (1973) argued that human activity is moral when
our internal and external motivations for performing acts
are in alignment, “Man is not a bundle of appetites seeking
satisfaction but a bundle of conscious energies seeking to
be exerted” (p. 4–5). To the greatest extent possible, value
must be incommensurable; meaning value must remain unique
and unalienated.
How could we even begin this process? Technologies have
material agency, defined as the structured set of relations enabling
or constraining different sets of possibilities. On a global scale,
technological activists are designing new technologies with the
agency to open new pathways and foreclose others via the
operation of technology’s “material agency.”
Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs), such as blockchains,
are contributing to a wave of infrastructure distribution in
industrial production. Such distribution is made possible because
people place their trust in the software to accurately validate the
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FIGURE 2 | A future stack for the commons (used with permission. Graphic by Jeff Emmet, published in “Architecting the Cyber-Physical Commons”, https:// cyber-physical-commons- a294d88b5415).
transaction rather than trusting a bank or other intermediary.
Some DLTs are being designed to be “unencloseable,” meaning
that no party can capture and control the communication
occurring on the ledger. This is being done so that these DLTs
are non-commodifiable in traditional capitalist markets, and in
theory, they will enable more democratic forms of governance
and organizational structures. Yet these radical possibilities will
not be realized without strategic action to design systems that
alter value in financial, service, and national infrastructures.
Blockchain is an emergent technology created to enable the
transfer of value with increased transparency, efficiency, and
security (Nakamoto, 2008) that possesses a transformative
material agency (Manski, 2017). The affordances of blockchain
technology are directly available in its code, and seven such
tendencies are listed in Table 1.
(Used with permission. The data from this Table 1 are
from: “No Gods No Masters No Coders? The Future of
Sovereignty in a Blockchain World,” by Manski, Sarah Grace,
and Manski and Manski (2018),Law and Critique, 29:2,
pp 151–162).
The material agency of distributed ledger technology could
enable “the construction of self-sovereign identity.” The word
sovereignty refers to “the receiving of a general recognition of
exclusive domain and consequent possession of the capacity
to establish the rules of conduct within a particular field of
action” (Manski and Manski, 2018). We all have both offline and
online identities. For anyone who uses digital systems, tied to
our material identity are various digital identities. For the most
part, these digital identities are not under our control, and often,
TABLE 1 | Seven tendencies of blockchain technology.
1. Verifiability. Transactions are assured through encrypted network
consensus mechanisms in such a form that all transactions from the
very first to the most recent are recorded in a ledger open to its
maintainers, reducing information asymmetries.
2. Globality. Digital transactions and cultural information flows
transcend geographic space and national borders.
3. Liquidity. Value liquidity is enhanced as the location of a store of
value that does not depend on or is not under the direct control of a
sovereign, central bank, or private corporation.
4. Permanence. The ledger of a transaction is immutable by design.
5. Ethereality. Transactions are conducted in a digital medium.
6. Decentralization. The ledger is widely distributed among many
stakeholders and maintainers.
7. Future Focus. Found in newer developments of blockchain such as
Ethereum, a stored autonomous self-reinforcing agency (SASRA) is
formed in the temporal displacement of action through the use of smart
contracts enabling the prefigurative recording of future transactions.
Used with permission. Published in Manski and Manski (2018).
we are not able to see what information is contained within
each system. Problematically, if the information is incorrect,
we cannot correct these errors, nor do we control what and
with whom information is shared and sold. The self-sovereign
infrastructure allows users to set boundaries regarding who has
access to their data and maintain their privacy. It can also reward
users for being contributors. This infrastructure thus will enable
people to protect their autonomy while conducting joint work
and collective action.
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TABLE 2 | Socio-economic objects within capitalist value accounting compared
to commons value accounting.
Capitalist value
Commons value accounting
Human labor Commodity value Reflects the species being
Time Continuous made
Experienced via natural body
Institutions Embodiments of class
Reflects individuals’ perceptions
of themselves
Transactions Restricted to narrow
prespecified attributes
Incorporates a broad range of
social/environment attributes
Means of
Capital dominates labor Labor dominates capital
Our “‘technical’ technologies will not generate broad human
gains unless we invest an equal amount of time, energy,
and resources in the development of social and emotional
technologies that drive how our whole society is organized and
how we work together.” Kaliya Identity Woman (2017) is making
the argument any technology controlled by corporations and
governments will always restrict human progress. Manski and
Manski (2018) support this point by outlining five possible future
scenarios of blockchain technology and conclude technology
without direct social movement intervention always reinforces
existing power relations. They take a contrasting position to those
who believe individual self-sovereign identity is the most likely
outcome of the use of new technology,
“In blockchain’s tendencies toward verifiability, globality,
permanence, and future focus, state actors are finding greater
capacities to intervene globally in the daily lives of individuals.
These expanded capacities are making possible the emergence
of new technological totalitarian forms of state sovereignty. To
begin with, states cannot easily control what they cannot measure,
and a blockchain-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) amplified by
artificial intelligence furthers the degree with which states can
monitor the material and social world. The rapidly expanding
IoT is expected to more than triple in size by 2020 to nearly 21
billion devices (Stavridis and Weinstein, 2016). When there is a
tiny blockchain-connected chip embedded in each material object
with which we interact, state institutions will assuredly seek to
monitor and discipline the personal, political, and economic
activities of the many.” (Manski and Manski, 2018).
Holochain is a clear case of a new technology strategically
created by social movement activists to achieve regenerative value
accounting, which they call “holoptical” knowledge accounting.
On New Year’s Eve of 2016, Eric Harris-Braun and Arthur
Brock started to build Holochain, “For me, what we need to
create is a very rich multidimensional accounting. We need
lots of feedback loops beyond the single dimension of price.”
(Brock, 2017). Holochain was created by the founders of the
MetaCurrency Project to realize a part of their socio-technical
imaginary. Holochain is the foundation for Holo, a cloud hosting
market for dApps, and the future of the Internet.
“Holo as a name was not pulled from a hat. It has roots.
Back in the original collective intelligence of tribal communities,
we had holopticism where everyone participates as part of a
feedback loop of the whole. Holomidal instead of pyramidal,
where, together, we sensed the whole. This isn’t just voting or even
decision-making, this is about an embodied integral experience
of sensing together. In the original collective intelligence, there is
co-creation and connectedness, even in a changing environment.
We need less democratic debate in this form because holoptical
clarity shapes individual actions. Holopticism doesn’t mean you
see everything; you see the whole from your perspective. And
it, then, collectively becomes aperspectival by our sensing and
communicating together.” (Russell, 2018)
Holochain is a DLT platform-based ecosystem with affordances
fostering co-production, open content, and co-ownership.
Holochain, aims at facilitating interconnectivity among direct
and indirect participants, such as those who install Holochain on
their hardware devices to provide hosting space and those who
access Holochain through a web browser. One of the advantages
of this design is that it avoids the blockchain requirement for
global consensus among maintainers and thus affords greater
scalability, as well as ’self-sovereignty;’ the user controls their
data and identity information. The design of holochain is
extremely distributed for a DLT2. Holochain activists call this
design ’agent-centric’ as opposed to corporate ’data-centric’
models. The affordances of this design mean that users are given
sovereign control over their data and are solely responsible for
granting permissions.
Holochain does not have a built-in currency or token.
However, the distributed internet architecture Holo does use
a cryptocurrency HOT Fuel and Holochain was designed to
make it easy to bid alternative cryptocurrencies in the form of
distributed accounting applications (dApps). Holo Fuel, a mutual
credit system (Manski and Bauwens, 2020), will cover the costs
for data storage and Holochain development and maintenance.
Holo Fuel is not a crypto-token or cryptocoin, but a mutual credit
system issued within a double accounting system where one party
holds a debit (the provider of goods and services) and the other
party holds a credit (a debt to the provider of goods and services).
On Holochain every transaction is countersigned on the local
chains of both counterparties. Holo Fuel will be purchased as a
token or received as a credit. This process occurs either through
the exchange of fiat currency or another cryptocurrency into
Holo Fuel or by setting credit limits; Holo Fuel to be paid later.
The exchange of money and cryptocurrencies into Holo Fuel
and the allocation of credit limits are done through the “Reserve
Accounts,” which is a facility provided by Harris-Braun and Brock
2For a comparison between Blockchain and Holochain, see Appendix 1.
Frontiers in Blockchain | 7June 2020 | Volume 3 | Article 29
Manski Creation of Critical Accounting Technology
“MetaCurrency is the name for the infrastructure and protocols
necessary for an open source economy, and free currencies to
flow in an interoperable and standardized way” (Harris-Braun,
2018). The open source economy and free currencies are meant to
function in a non-monopolizable manner by building protocols
and platforms to ‘open source’ the next economy (Brock, 2009),
“Building the core infrastructure for open sourcing money and
currencies and developing projects that embody the values of
Deep Wealth design.” (Harris-Braun et al., 2018).
The concept of Deep Wealth (see Figure 3) shifts the
value accounting incentive from accumulating material
wealth to experiencing wealth through elements such
as beautiful surroundings, friendship, capacity of being
generous, leisure, travel, family and fun and perhaps, most
importantly, deep connections with others (Brock, 2009).
In the view of Metacurrency, there are three forms of
wealth. The first is tradable wealth: food, time, energy,
services, material resources, etc. The second is measurable
wealth: performance, sustainability, physiological health,
quality, etc. and the third is acknowledgeable wealth: fun,
love, care, trust, beauty, etc. Each of these three forms of
wealth is a subset of the other. For example, time is tradable
wealth as well as measurable and acknowledgeable wealth;
together, they create “integral wealth” (The MetaCurrency
Technological activists involved with Metacurrency and
Holochain refer to a “quantum leap” transition from a complex
capitalist political economy to a post-capitalist society where
information technology plays a significant role in fostering
the creation of large-scale collective intelligence. The design
of Metacurrency’s technologies model the same organizational
patterns as living systems. By “living systems,” these activists
refer to biological organisms, atoms, forests, languages and
other continuously transforming systems, “the same kind of
architectures of intelligence that makes it possible for trillions
of cells to work together in an organism.” (Harris-Braun
and Brock, 2018). Within this architecture, “communication
is virtually instantaneous (electronic), peered, decentralized,
semantic and designed to evolve in response to rapidly changing
needs” (Harris-Braun et al., 2018). Such communication
parameters lead to effective, large scale, distributed collaboration
that would remove “most of the power structures that
underpin the social barriers to change and could make
formerly intractable problems (such as climate change, species
extinction, resource depletion, or poverty) quite readily solvable.”
(Harris-Braun et al., 2018).
Blockchains are token-centric, and by this, I mean that they
are concerned with the history of token transactions and not
necessarily with the people at the end of each transaction. In
contrast, the creators of Holochain designed Personas as an
agent-centric solution that allows individual users to maintain a
reputation. This reputation will document their behavior within a
community and across multiple applications that need a person’s
profile information. In this way, users will be able to trust those
with whom they are transacting. Personas allow the user to store
and edit their information in one account, similar to “log-in
with Google3” and offer/revoke any applications’ access to it4In
addition, to control your data, Personas is designed to allow users
to create multiple identities within each account so that users can
have a different business, personal, government, medical, family,
and friend personas. Each persona can also have an expiration
date. It allows for the revocability of data as required by European
Union law5.
The definition of value has been changing for the past
few decades, from market value to community value, and
distributed ledger technologies are furthering this transformation
by pushing out centralized identities in favor of self-sovereign
identities. The widespread adoption of self-sovereign identity
applications, such as Holochain-based Personas, is still yet
to be realized, but the incredible interest in user-controlled
identity makes it likely that some DLT application will
make this a reality. Distributed ledgers are a critical piece
of the puzzle of technologies including, smartphones, cloud
computing, public key infrastructure (PKI), open standards for
decentralized identifiers, directed identifiers, and open standards
for verified claims (DIDs) fitting together to enable self-
sovereign identities.
This article seeks to begin a dialogue on the topic of
how distributed ledger technologies may transform our
understanding of value and identity. Valuation is a social process,
and distributed organizations of technological activists are
utilizing new technologies to disrupt accounting and identity
management in contemporary capitalism, and thus transforming
global economics, the nature of work, and the distribution of
wealth. This paper explores the radical generative accounting
practices and ideological imaginaries underpinning this new
form of social movement activism, and whether or not the
development of new technologies of value accounting and self-
sovereign identity may address the challenges of an increasingly
complex global political economy of the future.
There is not a straight line between technological innovation
and the increasing complexity of the political economy. As
a society, we can decide to create technologies that will
enrich humanity rather than commodify it. However, it is
a certainty that if we continue to live on a planet where
capitalism is the dominant determinant of value accounting and
social identity, then expanding complexity and distorted value
accounting will usher humanity to the edge of the collapse of
democratic civilization.
Self-Sovereign Identity is a necessary but insufficient tool to
deal with some aspects of growing complexity. Only a widespread
popular global movement will have the power to snuff out the
underlying drivers of capitalism. As a part of this process, we
can use new forms of value accounting to reinforce and reify the
social system under which we imagine we want to live. There
is a growing movement of social entrepreneurs, cooperatives,
3Test out Personas’ demo here:
4See how PayPall sells your data here:
5the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679.
Frontiers in Blockchain | 8June 2020 | Volume 3 | Article 29
Manski Creation of Critical Accounting Technology
FIGURE 3 | Deep Wealth (used with permission. Graphic by Arthur Brock, published at model-of- wealth/).
and technological activists who are using these technologies
in pursuit of cooperative ownership and management of
wealth. It is in everyone’s interest to pay attention to
this development.
The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and
has approved it for publication.
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Conflict of Interest: The author declares that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a
potential conflict of interest.
Copyright © 2020 Manski. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or
reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the
copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal
is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or
reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Frontiers in Blockchain | 11 June 2020 | Volume 3 | Article 29
Manski Creation of Critical Accounting Technology
Blockchain versus Holochain (image used with permission. Created by
Agent Centric and Mutual Sovereignty Holochain
Design Principles
Anybody can try a new grammar (tweets, likes, rideshare
requests, five-star ratings, etc.) without needing permission or
support from others.
Anyone that wants to communicate with them using that new
grammar, can do so.
If it proves useful, they can keep using it without requiring
a business model that can extract value from the participants
(they are using it due to intrinsic value).
If it starts to prove too costly, annoying, or simply useless,
they can alter in any way they see fit or abandon that
grammar altogether.
This enables far greater responsiveness by the participants in a
community to the circumstances they face.
Make it difficult for both corporations and states (powerful
actors) from foreclosing possibilities.
There are ecologically inspired patterns of organization that
simply aren’t possible with existing tools (http, dollars,
incorporation, etc.). New tools like Holochain can enable
coordination that is not dependent on access to or control over
existing power structures (corporations, governments, etc.).
It does not free people of the control that powerful entities
might seek to wield. But it enables them to coordinate
independently if they choose to.
Frontiers in Blockchain | 12 June 2020 | Volume 3 | Article 29
... Therefore, a distributed method for identity management called Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is proposed [7], in which the users are central to the administration of identities. And, fortunately, the rise of distributed ledger technology (DLT), such as blockchain, has also made it possible to construct self-sovereign identities [8][9][10]. In comparison to the centralized management used by the traditional IdM, SSI schems shift decisions authority to users through secured DLT [11] and allow them to possess full control of their identities and data [12][13][14][15][16]. ...
Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is a new distributed method for identity management, commonly used to address the problem that users are lack of control over their identities. However, the excessive pursuit of self-sovereignty in the most existing SSI schemes hinders sanctions against attackers. To deal with the malicious behavior, a few SSI schemes introduce accountability mechanisms, but they sacrifice users' privacy. What's more, the digital identities (static strings or updatable chains) in the existing SSI schemes are as inputs to a third-party executable program (mobile app, smart contract, etc.) to achieve identity reading, storing and proving, users' self-sovereignty are weakened. To solve the above problems, we present a new self-sovereign identity scheme to strike a balance between privacy and accountability and get rid of the dependence on the third-party program. In our scheme, one and only individual-specific executable code is generated as a digital avatar-i for each human to interact with others in cyberspace without a third-party program, in which the embedding of biometrics enhances uniqueness and user control over their identity. In addition, a joint accountability mechanism, which is based on the shamir (t, n) threshold algorithm and a consortium blockchain, is designed to restrict the power of each regulatory authority and protect users' privacy. Finally, we analyze the security, SSI properties and conduct detailed experiments in term of the cost of computation, storage and blockchain gas. The analysis results indicate that our scheme resists the known attacks and fulfills all the six SSI properties. Compared with the state-of-the-art schemes, the extensive experiment results show that the cost is larger in server storage, blockchain storage and blockchain gas, but is still low enough for practical situations.
... SSI makes users of identity data the sovereign owners of their data without the need for a central trusted party to manage it. The relevance and potential of SSI is shown by the research community [Houtan et al., 2020, Manski, 2020, Liu et al., 2020, Dong et al., 2020, Additionally, the European Commission (EC) recognized the potential of SSI early on by launching the European self-sovereign identity framework 1 (ESSIF) use case group within the European blockchain services infrastructure 2 (EBSI). ...
... SSI makes users of identity data the sovereign owners of their data without the need for a central trusted party to manage it. The relevance and potential of SSI is shown by the research community (Houtan et al., 2020;Manski, 2020;Liu et al., 2020;Dong et al., 2020). Additionally, the European Commission (EC) recognized a ...
Conference Paper
Assurance in digital authentication means represents a fundamental requirement in the authentication process of digital identities. Different level-of-assurance (LoA) describe the trustworthiness of the authentication specified by various standards. Some traditional governmental identity systems achieve a high LoA. Nevertheless, the recent self-sovereign identity (SSI) model, which utilizes identity wallets to ensure that the identity data control remains with the related user, still lacks a high LoA, detaining the full potential of SSI such as using it for sensitive use-cases like for eGovernment or public administration services. This work tackles this problem by starting with assessing related LoA standards. Based on this assessment are requirements defined to achieve an LoA high. These requirements are utilized in the process of defining and evaluating our proposed concept. Our generic serves as the foundation for other developers, aiming to elevate the LoA in their SSI systems. The implementation of a proof-of-concept showcases the feasibility and practicability of our concept. In the evaluation, we identify measures provided by our concept, used to meet the defined requirements, and discuss the design decisions.
... Research examining distributed ledger technology (DLT) has often claimed that technology creates a trusted system that can create good in the world (Kewell et al.,2017;Ducrée et al., 2020;Fard Bahreini et al., 2020). A decentralised digital economy (DDE) that gives individuals control over their own data could challenge the current digital oligopoly (Gilder, 2018;Manski, 2020). Though history provides caution; previously the internet was thought of as a means to subvert incumbents by bringing consumers and firms closer together (Nuccio and Guerzoni, 2019). ...
Full-text available
Blockchain projects have been developed to extend the reach of distributed ledger technology (DLT) beyond cryptocurrency to achieve “good” in the world. Such projects may make a claim for moral, ethical, and responsible intent, but many researchers have not critically examined what good means in context. The concept of good has been debated for centuries and whilst we will not conclude the argument, we should engage in the discourse. We propose the idea that exploration across micro, meso, and macro levels of value creating ecosystems is needed. The implications, both practical and theoretical, of the use of blockchain for good require analysis. As the ambition for blockchain innovations to transform society for the better becomes practical reality, understanding of such change will come from transdisciplinary researchers able to bridge knowledge of social and technical systems.
... Another notable, cryptoeconomically enabled feature of blockchain are "non-fungible tokens" (NFTs [17,18]), which represent a digital certificate of (possibly partial) ownership representing a unique real-world asset such as property [19], commodities [20] or artwork [21,22]. Blockchain can also implement self-sovereign identity ("SSI") systems [23,24], e.g., to properly attribute credentials in research and education without intermediary agencies. ...
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This perspective proposes that, by virtue of its sophisticated trust and consensus finding mechanisms, blockchain has the clear potential to substantially upgrade the processes and organization traditionally underpinning academic science and commercial technology development comprising funding, project delivery, generation of intellectual property, documentation and publication. For supporting this hypothesis, striking analogies between the concepts underlying blockchain technology with research are identified, and applied to the generation of verified knowledge in science and technology development. It is then elaborated how a blockchain enabled token economy can efficiently and transparently incentivize and coordinate an integrative and community-inclusive participatory approach to fuel crowdsourcing of collective intelligence for contributing ideas, work, infrastructure, funding, data, validation, management, assessment, governance, arbitration and exploitation of projects. Quality, credibility and direction of projects are optimized by demanding collateral “skin-in-the-game” from contributors based on blockchain-enabled staking, reputation systems and prediction markets. This way research progress emerges as a chain of community generated and independently vetted blocks of scientific knowledge; these new blocks are concatenated with the state-of-the-art according to transparent consensus mechanisms.
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Distributed ledger technology (DLT) is increasingly proposed as a powerful tool to address the social and ecological challenges in the Global South. DLTs are opening up possible futures, one of which is a wave of infrastructure decentralization with common-centric and cosmo-local production. Shared logistics and supply chains for a circular economy, with collaborative and networked “flow” accounting allow the integration of contributive logics as well as the integration of social and ecological externalities, including practical knowledge on resource use limitations linked to planetary boundaries, as an integral part of ecosystems of productive collaboration. Indeed, DLTs remove the need for central intermediaries to validate transaction between parties, who instead place their trust in the encrypted, disintermediated system software. DLTs can be designed as a new unencloseable (non-commodifiable) medium of communication, which could lead to radically new forms of cooperation, organization, and governance. Yet these revolutionary possibilities will not be realized unless technologists consciously and strategically design systems redistributing sovereignty from elites to the people in financial, service, and national infrastructures. This paper concludes with a critical examination of the application of DLT in Puerto Rico and how DLTs could alter the production and exchange of “value” in service of a global popular sovereignty.
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The building of the blockchain is predicted to harken the end of the contemporary sovereign order. Some go further to claim that as a powerful decentering technology, blockchain contests the continued functioning of world capitalism. Are such claims merited? In this paper we consider sovereignty and blockchain technology theoretically, posing possible futures for sovereignty in a blockchain world. These possibilities include various forms of individual, popular, technological, corporate, and techno-totalitarian state sovereignty. We identify seven structural tendencies of blockchain technology and give examples as to how these have manifested in the construction of new forms of sovereignty. We conclude that the future of sovereignty in a blockchain world will be articulated in the conjuncture of social struggle and technological agency and we call for a stronger alliance between technologists and democrats.
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Nanoscience and emerging technologies are a key development of our times, marked by their constitution through expectations and visions, new ways of organising research, and changing modes of technological governance. They raise new sets of questions. How should science and policy relate? Are science and society converging in new ways? What is the relationship between representation and intervention? It is with such questions that this volume – based on contributions to the inaugural conference of the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies – is concerned. It takes seriously both the sweep of different technological application areas emerging into contemporary society and the range of approaches that can and should be applied to thinking through their implications.
The purpose of this book is to explore new developments in the field of economic sociology. It contains cutting-edge theoretical discussions by some of the world's leading economic sociologists, with chapters on topics such as the economic convention, relational sociology, economic identity, economy and law, economic networks and institutions. The book is distinctive in a number of ways. First, it focuses on theoretical contributions, by pulling together and extending what the contributors believe to be the most important theoretical innovations within their own particular areas of the field. Second, there are contributions by leading economic sociologists from both the US and Europe, which gives the book both wider scope and appeal, while also creating the opportunity for some interesting dialogue between distinct theoretical traditions. The book will be of interest to researchers, Ph.D. students, and advanced students on both side of the Atlantic, and indispensible in advanced economic sociology courses.