Crypto and the rise of “speculative communities”

Max Read, a former editor-in-chief of Gawker, writes a newsletter called Read Max, and in one of his latest editions he talks about a book he read and reviewed, called “Speculative Communities: Living With Uncertainty in a Financialized World,” by a London-based sociologist named Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou. It’s about more than just crypto, but it explains a lot about the rise of that kind of niche community:

Where prediction once reigned, speculation now dominates. You can see this at the most literal level in the rise of gig-platform apps like Uber, where the once-simple acts of hailing or driving a cab become adventures in speculation—wagers on whether the price of a ride will rise or fall in the next five minutes—but you can also see it on a discursive level in social media, where users stake out speculative positions (called “takes”) on volatile reputational marketplaces. You even see it, Komporozos-Athanasiou argues, in the success of “populist” politicians and initiatives from the Greek bailout referendum to Brexit to Trump, votes for which can be understood as speculative wagers on “possible, yet uncertain, outcomes”

[H]omo economicus is an isolated individual, while homo speculans, in Komporozos-Athanasiou’s formulation, is a member of a “speculative community.” The delegitimation of neoliberal reason not only increases volatility, it also undermines the previous regime’s insistence on atomized individuals and family units. “Struggles of speculation and insurance,” then, “are experienced more intensely but also more collectively.” Here Speculative Communities draws on Benedict Anderson’s famous study of the origins of nationalism, Imagined Communities, which argued that the collapse of anciens régimes around the world and the rise of print-media capitalism in the wake of the industrial revolution created new uncertainties around which the “imagined communities” of nationalism could coalesce.

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