Crown Governance Spotlight (Crown_University)
This month’s spotlight feature focuses on Jose Herranz, who has been playing a pivotal part of Crown’s new support feature as well as working on this proposal here http://bit.ly/2jy5nq1.
Hi Jose, could you tell us a little about your background?
My name is Jose Herranz and I live in Germany. Originally, I come from Spain. I am a Media Studies scholar at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. I am currently writing my doctoral thesis on blockchain technology, where I focus on the analysis of permissionless, immutable and trusted peer to peer networks that enable digital value transfer. I have been studying and working at the Media Studies department since 2011, where I am researching the connections between activism and technology. It is a pleasure to be able to do this at the renowned Bochumer Medienwissenschaft.
When did you first hear about Bitcoin and when did you get into crypto?
My first serious contact with Bitcoin and other cryptographical transaction systems dates back to late 2014, when a good friend, physicist and philosopher (hyena) started explaining Bitcoin and later the Ethereum network to me. Before that, I had only known about Bitcoin due to Wikileaks and the financial blockade they managed to surpass through Bitcoin donations. What interests me most is Bitcoin as an infrastructure, as a network, so my approach has been mostly theoretical and initially had the goal of understanding blockchains as a whole. My relation to this ecosystem as a token holder is very recent and limited to few projects that I am participating in, such as Crown.
How did you first hear about Crown?
It was the same friend, hyena, who pointed me out to Crown in May 2017.
What interested you most about Crown, what made you want to get involved?
At the beginning, I was intrigued about the possibility of building a decentralized application platform on top of a blockchain. An academic colleague shared an idea about decentralized mapping and I started looking for projects that could implement that, as I had been very focused on studying the links between activism and mapping in the context of my M.A. thesis. Digital mapping involves the production of spaces that have not been visible or accessible until then. In Spain, the PAH (platform for eviction affected) activists were mapping empty houses. There are millions of empty houses in Spain owned by banks. The different PAHs, which function as nodes through the Spanish geography, were helping the hundred thousands of people that had lost their homes to occupy these empty buildings. Link to the article:
I do think that the Crown platform can be very useful for activist projects, so I joined the Crown Community to find out that it is a really open one which permits you to collaborate and work along. That is the analogy between activist networks and Crown. Both are open spaces of participation where ideas can be developed and implemented. Activist networks, just like the Crown project or other blockchains, empower individuals not only through their infrastructures, but also through the moment of participation itself. Individual empowerment is only possible due to a collective force that supports it. That is the power of the peer to peer networks, which are not mere internet or online phenomena but rather a different way of collaboration and exchange of information, experiences and value.
Could you briefly explain your proposal for Crown?
In the frame of my work at the Media Studies department, I give one lecture every term. Last term I made a research seminar on Digital Commons together with a Mexican media anthropologist, Alexis Rodríguez. This winter term I am giving it on blockchain technology. The aim of our proposal is to prove three things to my students. First, that some blockchain projects, like Crown, are open to participation. Second, that blockchains generate value. Third and maybe most important: Commons can only be sustained with a strong governance system that regulates the interaction within a given network. A permissionless network without rules does not work. Rules are essential to protect the weakest members of every network. In open projects, the rules are designed by its community. Shaping these rules, engaging in their development and voting on projects means self-governance. I think there is a lack of awareness about what self-governance, self-organisation and self-management involves, specially when we do not rely on state institutions to do so. I am not talking about smart citizens that help to keep a given and naturalized order that cannot be questioned. Smart citizens and smart cities would be the domesticated version of radical self-organisation, that aims at redefining order and power relations instead of aligning itself into given ones.
I suggested to my students that we submit a proposal to fund two members of the Crown Team. If passed, they would visit us at our institution and present the Crown project to us. We would have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss opportunities. Blockchain technology still sounds very abstract to those who are not actively engaged in it. I am hoping that by bringing in professionals of the field, we will be able to better understand the potentials implicit in the bitcoin protocol when it is combined with an open community and a decentralized applications platform running on top of it. That is why Crown is the perfect example.
Why did you decide to target Media Studies students?
It is not that I have targeted Media Studies students. It is rather that Media Studies students have targeted Crown blockchain developers. Media Studies can be defined as a discipline that undertakes a symptomatology of the present. We try to grasp complex phenomena and analyse cultural and social settings in a context of constant technological change and innovation. How do media in current posthuman and techno-ecological contexts change the relation that humans have to the world we inhabit? How do we alter our relation and interaction with machines, animals and even the self-concept of humanity? These are some of the questions that we can pose ourselves to think like Media Studies scholars. If we depart from them, it becomes clear very fast why blockchains must become a central object of study for the areas of philosophy of technology. They enable different types of cooperation and collaboration that are not mediated by third parties. This has a direct impact on our politics of interaction.
I am convinced that a deep understanding of how blockchains work can expand and push the borders of thought and that is very important for students of a critical and theoretical discipline like Media Studies.
What do you hope to achieve mainly from the presentation?
I hope that the students will be able to grasp the logic of participation in blockchain networks. Specially the youngest among them have grown up in a society that mediates and manages everything for us. The banks manage our savings, politicians and technocrats manage complex problems that affect us all, Spotify manages our music tastes, Facebook manages our
friendships. It is very important that we regain autonomy and knowledge of all these areas that are now managed by financial and political oligarchies as well as cultural industries. Only by regaining the right to self-administrate our lives, solve our own problems and design the social and cultural parameters, we can participate in a given society or network. Blockchain projects like Crown offer this possibility and it is crucial that professional and dedicated people of the field come to visit us and explain this as clear and exact as possible.
How do you think this will benefit Crown?
I met Tey Al Rjula at a blockchain conference in Essen, Germany. He is a Dutch blockchain developer that is working on a project together with the Dutch government to give back identities to refugees that have no birth certificates (like him). I had a very interesting discussion with him and I share these thoughts. He stated that we are in a phase of blockchain technology where awareness is the most important. We need to propagate the knowledge about the bitcoin protocol and its potentials, as well as of the grass roots communities that are out there and that can be joined to work on, like Crown. This needs to happen as fast as possible as there are very powerful actors trying to tame this radical technology and turn it into unpolitical and controlled transaction systems to just lower fees or maximize efficiency. While these attributes are not to be underestimated, the real potential of blockchains lies in the collective empowerment they implicit, specially for those who need it most.
Crown needs to gain visibility and awareness has to be raised about its social, cultural and economic potentials. Reaching out to universities is a great way to achieve this, as critical thinkers can propagate the acquired information and knowledge as well as work on further developing ideas and concepts. Public universities and critical disciplines can influence the evolution of blockchain technologies attending to ethical and political dimensions that are losing their centrality while financial dimensions are gaining it.
Do you think that this proposal could be repeated with other Universities/Countries/Students?
I am convinced that informative and educational talks need to be made at all levels and institutions. From primary schools to universities. I share that point of view with Andreas Antonopoulos. Every kid should have 3 years of experience with bitcoin / blockchain infrastructure before they create their first bank account. This way we denaturalize the relation we have to money and to financial institutions and are able to think of new social, cultural and economic models that are less oppressing. It is the task of every blockchain community to explain itself to newcomers, free from commercial interests. It has been proved that children develop a different relation to technology if they work with open source tools in an early age, so we definitely need to get rid of as many proprietary systems as we can, especially in public educational institutions.
Are you considering any other proposals for Crown?
Maybe in future. For now, it is important to work on this one.