Understanding the Role of Actor Heterogeneity in Blockchain Splits: An Actor-Network Perspective of Bitcoin Forks

AbstractThis paper investigates the focal actors and their heterogeneity in blockchain splits. Disagreements in blockchain communities often lead to splits in the blockchain and the community. For example, disagreements within the Bitcoin community on increasing the block size led to the blockchain split and creation of Bitcoin Cash. We build on actor-network theory to investigate blockchain split as a translation process, and employ case study methodology to examine Bitcoin splits. We identify several human actors, such as miners, developers, merchants, and investors, as well as non-human actors including ideologies, exchanges and computer programs involved in Bitcoin splits. Our results show that actor heterogeneity, that is, the complex constellation of diverse actors, plays a key role in blockchain splits. We further describe how the human and non-human actors’ fluid moves into micro and macro positions in the network affect the development of the split. We also discuss the role of these actors and their engagement in forming micro and macro agencies in blockchain splits. Our study adds to the understanding of actor behavior and network dynamics in decentralized information systems such as blockchain and open source software.

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