Open University School of Law PhD Studentship 2019: Critical intersections between blockchains, law and regulation

by | 12 Feb 2019

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For the academic year beginning 1 October 2019 the Open University Law School is inviting applications for a number of full-time funded PhD studentships.  The studentships are based at the Milton Keynes campus and students are normally expected to live within commuting distance of Milton Keynes. The studentships cover tuition fees, a generous research training support grant and a stipend (circa £14,777 per annum) for 36 months.

In order to be considered for a funded studentship your application should preferably be based on one of the advertised projects, of which one is: Critical intersections between blockchains, law & regulation

For more information:

Supervisors: Dr Robert Herian ( and Dr Caroline Derry (

Project description: As the distributed architecture underpinning the Bitcoin anarcho-capitalist project, blockchains have rapidly developed into mainstream “solutions” to many of the world’s “problems”, and been heralded by a broad range of global corporate and financial actors as “revolutionary” and “disruptive”.  It is hoped that blockchains and applications such as smart contracts will change global socioeconomic and cultural ideas and practices for the better by fostering greater business and trade security, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  As a largely unregulated globalizing phenomenon within the boundaries of capitalist logic however, blockchains are also set to affect the day-to-day lives of billions of people.  The aspirations that permeate and govern blockchain research and development may lead to unique opportunities for shifting the nature and balance of power in society through new adaptive cultures of transparency and trust within and beyond the digital world, can and how should domestic and international law respond?

A report on the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland by the Financial Times carried the simple headline: ‘blockchain can no longer be ignored’ (Arnold, 2018).  Global economic elites pulling sharper focus on blockchain is a clear sign of the desirability of the technology.  Steering the mainstreaming of blockchains is a dedicated and at times evangelical “ecosystem”, a global community engaged in developing blockchain concepts and practices, and maintaining interest and attention on the technology.  To paraphrase Michael Power, blockchain is an idea as much as a concrete technology or technical practice and there is no communal investment in the technology without a commitment to this idea and the social norms and hopes which it embodies (Power, 1997, p.4).  ‘Ecosystem’ is not a term, therefore, that is neutral from the point of view of law and regulation, nor is it apolitical.  The blockchain ecosystem is fostering particular forms of conduct and techno-solutionist ideologies based on a basic ethos that ‘it’s all about the blockchain’ (Robinson and Leising, 2015; Tapscott and Tapscott, 2016).

How should law and regulation interpret and seek to manage blockchains (private/public; permissioned/permissionless), blockchain applications (e.g. smart contracts) and the conduct they (seek to) produce?  What challenges do blockchain’s pose to existing domestic and international legal principles, doctrines, methods and systems?  Will litigation and arbitration radically alter in a blockchain world?  What threats or opportunities do technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing pose to blockchains and the nascent legal environment being built for them?  This call is looking for research students interested in advancing blockchain scholarship from the point of view of law and regulation, and with an eye on critical evaluation of blockchain’s broader economic, political, philosophical and cultural effects.  We are particularly keen to supervise projects that analyse blockchains and associated applications including smart contracts, registers, and tokens as: sites of ideological production; psycho-political phenomenon (e.g. technological fetishism); socially constitutive and trans-jurisdictional projects (e.g. promotion of personal data sovereignty contra formal State mechanisms and authority).

About the Supervisors: Dr Robert Herian is the author of Regulating Blockchain: Critical Perspectives in Law and Technology, he has been conducting research into blockchain and associated applications, systems and technologies for several years.  Dr Caroline Derry’s research interests include legal regulation, the impact of non-regulation, and their interaction with extra-legal regulation.

References/ Suggested Reading:

Arnold, Martin. 2018. Davos: Blockchain can no longer be ignored. Financial Times. 24 January. Accessed 1 February 2018.

Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Biegel, Stuart. 2003. Beyond our Control? Confronting the Limits of Our Legal System in the Age of Cyberspace. Cambridge: The MIT Press

Blanchette, Jean-François. 2012. Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents. Cambridge: The MIT Press

Brown, Ian and Christopher, T. Marsden. 2013. Regulating Code: Good Governance and Better Regulation in the Information Age. Cambridge: The MIT Press

Castells, Manuel. 2010. The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd Edition. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell

Davies, William. 2017. The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition. London: Sage

Golumbia, David. 2016. The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism. Minneapolis:

Herian, Robert. 2018. Blockchain and the Distributed Reproduction of Capitalist Class Power. MoneyLab Reader 2: Overcoming the Hype. Edited by Inte Gloerich, Geert Lovink, and Patricia de Vries. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, pp.43-51

Herian, Robert. 2018. The Politics of Blockchain. Law and Critique, Vol. 29, Issue 2 (July), pp.129-131

Herian, Robert. 2018. Taking Blockchain Seriously. Law and Critique, Vol. 29, Issue 2 (July), pp.163-171

Herian, Robert. 2018. Regulating Blockchain: Critical Perspectives in Law and Technology. London: Routledge

Mueller, Milton. 2013. Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance. Cambridge: MIT Press

Pasquale, Frank. 2015. The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Power, Michael. 1997. The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Robinson, Edward and Matthew Leising. 2015. Blythe Masters Tells Banks the Blockchain Changes Everything. Bloomberg, 1 September. Accessed 24 March 2018

Tapscott, Don and Alex Tapscott. 2016. Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World. London: Portfolio Penguin

Stiegler, Bernard. 2010. For a New Critique of Political Economy. Cambridge: Polity

Werbach, Kevin and Nicolas Cornell. 2017. Contracts Ex Machina. 67 Duke Law Journal 313



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