Digital Governance as Recombination: The Institutional Generativity of Blockchain Protocols


Jason Windawi

Date of Talk


Jason Windawi holds a PhD from Princeton University, where his dissertation focused on the social organization of blockchain technology as an emergent form of digital transformation. In addition to his ongoing research on blockchain and digital transformation, Jason is a Research Fellow at the Jain Family Institute, where he is developing a computational policy research tool with that organization. Jason’s career includes several prior roles in investment management as an analystand an entrepreneur. He also holds degrees from Columbia University and Stanford University.


The rapidly increasing power of digital infrastructures to shape social action has fueled a growing body of research on the multifaceted relationship between digital technology and governance. Given the complexity and rapid rate of change in these technologies, it is perhaps unsurprising that knowledge building has tended to focus on either the individual aspects of the technology and of the social organization of governance around it. As a result, the relationship between governance and digital technology itself is seen in siloed parts that rarely cumulate into a meaningful whole. This paper seeks to bridge these perspectives by bringing the paradoxes and affordances of related digital technologies into the same frame. Specifically, I ask: how do the affordances of digital technology enable its users, developers and other stakeholders to navigate the tensions created by the technology’s generativity and fluidity? I study this phenomenon in the context of blockchain technology, an emergent form of digital infrastructure for which governance institutions have long been a focus. Rather than ledgers or cryptocurrencies, I focus my analysis on the role of blockchain protocols, a central mechanism for establishing the roles, rules, incentives and other aspects that define blockchain governance. Using a framework I developed for this analysis, I find that blockchain protocols combine the technology’s innate affordances with the controlled generativity of open source and the stabilizing control of algorithms into a unique blend that I term open source institution building. This institutional generativity is at the heart of the technology’s ability to target longstanding institutions as well as its rapid iteration on the forms it creates.

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First Nations land acknowledegement

We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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