Field Note #113. On "Seduction of Decentralization Rhetoric"

Source: Nathan Schneider, "Decentralization: An Incomplete Ambition" in J. of Cultural Econ. (2019)

👀 See also Field Note 8: On "Impossibility of Decentralization"

The Context.

Much like the terms "entrepreneur" and "investor," the word "decentralization" is an unstable concept, serving not merely as a technical term of art, but a "performative aspiration."  

And, as with many things that are ensnared in the "investment industrial complex" (aka traditional hedge funds and venture firms, which have moved increasingly toward media businesses), there is a great deal of side show performance.

There seemingly is no consensus around specific meanings of "decentralization" and sadly, so little inquiry--or even curiosity--into such a heavily used hashtag.  

The uncritical usage of "decentralization" is "called for far more than it is theorized or consistently defined.  This non-specificity has served to draw diverse participants into common political and technological projects.  Yet discourses of decentralization tend to take on a tragic hue, and justly so; even the most apparently decentralized systems have shown the capacity to produce economically and structurally centralized outcomes.  The rhetoric of decentralization thus obscures other aspects of the re-ordering it claims to describe." (p. 4, emphasis added)

One simple lesson: reject any investor, entrepreneur, or member of the Twitterati who uncritically waves the banner of decentralization.  So-called "decentralization maxis" are caught in a false binary of centralization vs. decentralization, excluding the nuances of the middle, where the real show occurs.

"Any ambition for decentralization will remain chronically incomplete without accompanying ambitions for accountability."  (p. 29).

The Details.

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