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Cryptoeconomic Geographies and Contestation in Puerto Rico

This thesis is about how the new techno-capitalist industries oriented around blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are further marginalizing already marginalized groups in Puerto Rico. These industries are forming new distributed cryptoeconomic geographies with highly local impacts. While socio-technical relationships with crypto and blockchain are forming all over the globe, the scenario in Puerto Rico has the most the most at stake for residents who do not have a stake in cryptocurrency. Specifically, a group of crypto-proponents (primarily male-dominated US expats) is looking to establish a new “crypto-utopia” in San Juan. These transactionary publics, as I define them, are groups with certain discourses, ideologies, and rhetorics centered around individual transactions, goals, and gains. They work through vastly different power structures that allow them to act more autonomously and anonymously via digital technology. However – there are local, native Puerto Ricans, government organizations, and institutions engaging as well on the basis of economic development. From a feminist perspective, this thesis challenges the assertion that blockchain technology has emancipatory potential, particularly for Puerto Rico. I discuss the resistance and contestation against crypto-colonialism and economic injustice in Puerto Rico, and highlight strategies both with and without digital technology. Specifically, I question if the politics of blockchain technology are compatible with those of platform cooperativism. I conclude with a number of speculative future scenarios for how alternate techno-economic strategies may play out in Puerto Rico, and what their consequences may be.

This thesis was completed at Parsons School of Design, The New School (May 2019).

For the research and writing of this thesis, I owe much to Andrew Mercado-Vázquez and Noemí Segarra for their continued insights, connections, passion, and sustained collaboration.

In addition to my thesis advisors, Jilly Traganou, Miodrag Mitrasinovic, and Miguel Robles-Durán, I would like to thank the following faculty members at The New School for their support, discussions, and ideas that were influential during the development of this thesis: Koray Çalışkan, Shannon Mattern, Antina von Schnitzler, Trebor Scholz, Jon Thirkield, and Maya Wiley.

Thanks to Ed Keller for the invitation to present work-in-progress of this thesis at the Agent Intellects Symposium held at The New School in December 2018; and to Agnieszka Leszczynski and Gillian Rose for inviting me to present portions of this work on a feminist digital geography panel at AAG 2019 in Washington DC. The questions and discussions raised during both events contributed to the development of this thesis.