The Ethnography of a ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organization’ (DAO): De-mystifying Algorithmic Systems

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This paper details ethnographic methods, experiences, and insights from an ethnographer and an industry engaged complex systems engineer in how to study resilience in blockchain-based DAOs as a novel field site. Amidst digitization of numerous elements of government, work, and everyday life, ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organizations’ (DAOs) provide a field site for the generation of ethnographic insights into opportunities and limitations in organizational resilience in human-machine assemblages. As a broad organizational form, DAOs aim to enable people to coordinate and govern themselves through automated rules deployed on a public blockchain (Hassan & Di Filippi, 2021). DAOs are an experiment in ‘computer aided governance’. These adaptive, socio-technical infrastructures are envisioned as capable of restructuring the foundations of governance in human societies (Merkle, 2016; Kolestsi, 2019; Garrod, 2016). Ethnography provides a qualitative tool to elicit the social dynamics of governance, adaptability, and resilience in a context of algorithmic governance and automation. By foregrounding the social dynamics of organizational adaptability and resilience, our resilience framework and vulnerabilities mapping tools help us to operationalize complex domains to de-mystify and re-humanize algorithmic systems.

Article citation: 2022 EPIC Proceedings pp 74–97, ISSN 1559-8918,

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