Journal of the Association for Information Systems


Given the ubiquity of digital technologies, and increased use of autonomous algorithms, it is likely that many of today’s social and organizational processes will one day include autonomous elements. The Bitcoin blockchain is likely the first case of an increasingly generative and autonomous way of organizing, and the specific properties of blockchain infrastructures—distribution of control, openness to manipulation, and generativity of the underlying source code—make it an ideal case to study patterns of self-organizing. This paper investigates the phenomenon of self-organizing through a study of forking in the Bitcoin blockchain infrastructure between 2010 and 2016. It adds to the emerging body of research on digital infrastructures, and particularly blockchain infrastructures, by conceptualizing forking as a pattern of self-organizing in blockchain infrastructures that specifically involves the underlying infrastructure, the scale of code changes, individual objectives, and collective adoption, whether specific or general. Thus, this paper demonstrates how forking in blockchain infrastructures mediates between divergent organizing objectives and existing capabilities, on the one hand, and generates self-organizing on the other hand. In this paper, we further contextualize our findings in extant work on digital infrastructures, offer a guide for designers of blockchain infrastructures, and propose the concept of “generative mirroring” as a pattern through which blockchain infrastructures and organizing adaptively coevolve.





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