Stable worlds on cryptomarkets? Resolving the problem of cooperation
Cryptomarkets operating on the darknet are a recent phenomenon that have gained importance only over the last couple of years (Barratt 2012, Martin 2014). However, in the meantime they constitute an evolving part of illicit drug markets. Although selling and buying a variety of psychoactive substances on the Internet has a long history, technological innovations enable systematic drug trading on the net. Technological innovations like the combination of anonymising software and virtual currencies such as Bitcoin allow users to proceed with (illicit) drug transactions with almost completely anonymous identities and locations. This paper builds upon Beckert’s (2009) social order approach to explore how the coordination problem of cooperation is being resolved by social practices of users of cryptomarkets in order to allow for ‘stable worlds’ (Fligstein 2001). The cooperation problem refers to an asymmetric distribution of information and freedom of choice regarding price, product quality and possible intentions of exchange partners. Social practices of cooperation help to reduce the social risks entailed in the exchange process. To explore such social practices, this paper draws on digital ethnography (Coleman 2010) of cryptomarkets, including online monitoring of marketplaces, online observation of various discussion forums related to anonymous drug marketplaces and self-presentations of users on cryptomarkets. Insights into cooperative practices are presented and implications for the trade-off between ‘possibility of freedom and necessity of control’ (Jasanoff 2004) are discussed.