The Blockchain Conundrum: Humans, Community, Regulation and Chains

The second of our QUT Global Law, Science and Technology seminar series for 2021 featured a panel discussion led by Professor Kieran Tranter on research conducted by Associate Professor Felicity Deane and PhD student Lachlan Robb on ‘The Blockchain Conundrum: Humans, Community, Regulation and Chains’.


This discussion argued that blockchain can be used to build a human-centric future. This is a challenge to recent critical literature on blockchain that sees it as another manifestation of digital capitalism that is profoundly antisocial and anti-human. This argument is in three parts.

The first part identified in the hype and critical literatures about blockchain, the blockchain conundrum of the freedom/constrain dyad. While tempting to see these literatures as forming a sealed hermeneutic of over-positive meets over-negative; it is argued that the critical discourse in locating blockchain within digital capitalism provides an insight that could unravel the blockchain conundrum. The critical literature identifies regulation, particularly state regulation, as essential for human blockchain futures.

The second part unraveled the blockchain conundrum through this focus on regulation – through two accounts of law, technology and society; Lessig’s notion of actors as ‘pathetic dots’ and Brownsword’s reimaging of regulation in technological societies. While both provide ways to unravel the blockchain conundrum, it is suggested that Brownsword’s emphasis on regulators, and regulatory means and ends, through and with technology, provides a more nuanced way to make human-centric blockchain futures.

The final part built from Brownsword’s resolution of the blockchain conundrum, to examine a particular blockchain application in retail supply (BeefLedger) as representing the possibility for assemblages including blockchains in building human-centric futures through the nurturing of trusted communities that enable, rather than restrict, meaningful human action.


The presentation can be viewed online at The QUTUBE, the official YouTube channel for Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Panel members

Kieran TranterProfessor Kieran Tranter is Chair of Law, Technology and Future in the School of Law, QUT. He researches the intertwining of law, technology and culture. His current projects focus on technologies of mobility examining the accreditation of everyday autonomy and the complexities and complicities of technologies of mobility for First Nation justice and sovereignty.

You can read more about Kieran and his research on his staff profile.

Felicity DeaneFelicity Deane is an Associate Professor in the School of Law, QUT. Her current research projects intersect with a number of emerging areas including technology, trade and the environment. She has been a CI on the Beefledger project since 2018.

You can read more about Felicity and her research on her staff profile.

Lachlan RobbLachlan Robb is a PhD candidate in the School of Law at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

He is exploring the role of technology and innovation upon blockchain projects through ethnography.

About the series

The QUT Global Law, Science and Technology Seminar Series aims to bring together national and international speakers who will explore the personal, societal and governance dimensions of solving real world problems which are influenced by, and through the interactions of science, technology and the law.

The series will host speakers who think about ‘technology’ and ‘science’ as broadly construed to refer to methods of framing or interacting with the world, and that enable the critical and imaginative questioning of the technical, science, environmental and health dimensions of law and life.

Previous Seminars

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