Movement to market, currency to property: The rise and fall of Bitcoin as an anti-state movement, 2009–2014

Christopher J. Lawrence, Stephanie Lee Mudge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Can social movements mobilize market devices to challenge the political–economic order? Focusing on Bitcoin, we argue that an effective anti-state market device needs to be durably ‘counterearmarked’, to use Viviana Zelizer’s term, with radical meaning. This durability, however, requires that the movement build alliances with holders of political and economic power who also embrace the device’s radical meaning, lest those actors reformat the device to suit their purposes. To make this case, we locate Bitcoin’s radical origins in a performative project built on elements of Austrian monetary theory. We then track Bitcoin’s dual transformation between 2009 and 2014: the anti-state movement gave way to a market featuring big financial players, and the Internal Revenue Service officially redefined the bitcoin currency as property. Understanding this dual transformation requires joining Zelizerian conceptions of money with theories of markets-and-movements on the one hand, and symbolic-cultural conceptions of the classificatory state on the other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-134
Number of pages26
JournalSocio-Economic Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Bitcoin
  • Markets
  • Money
  • Performativity
  • Social movements
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Economics, Econometrics and Finance


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