Grounded Theory and Actor-Network Theory: A Case Study

Grounded Theory and Actor-Network Theory: A Case Study

Bill Davey (RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia) and Arthur Adamopoulos (RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJANTTI.2016010102


This paper introduces a method of analyzing large text data in the context of an Actor-Network Theory based study. A case is used to illustrate conditions under which using an analytical technique from another philosophy seems particularly apt. A tool commonly used in Grounded Theory was applied in a manner aimed at facilitating a search for potential actors and their interactions and for evidence of specific translations of the innovation in the case used.
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The Case

The research team in this case was interested in the adoption of Bitcoin. The authors decided that the approach to understanding this adoption would involve identifying the important actors and their interactions and determining the nature of the translation of digital currency that came into being. This innovation is interesting as it has developed into a medium of exchange for those wishing to trade in illegal goods, but also as a speculative currency with the advantage of being almost a pure market driven currency.

Having decided that Actor-Network Theory was the most appropriate approach to this question, some research design decisions were made that make this project an interesting basis for discussion. It was decided that the data most likely to lead to understanding was not the post-facto interviewing of people today, but the examination of web-based sources. Web based sources are interesting as they are statements and opinions of some historical ‘fact’ frozen in time, rather than reflective reports filtered by the need to meet publication standards. Blogs and online articles are a discourse online – a type of conversation.

The research team examined a vast array of blogs, websites, commentary and news articles. As the sources were archived at the time of production, they allow the picture of the network forming in time to be captured and analysed. This source of data, and its size, is a unique aspect of the sample study. A limitation of web-based data is that it cannot be interrogated, nor can new statements be generated by asking new questions of the website (as is available with a live interview).

Bitcoin as a topic of the study brings with it research questions of a particular nature. Firstly, the entire history of the innovation is short, recent and intensely studied. The origin of Bitcoin is attributed to a person using the name Satoshi Nakamoto (who has still not been traced to a real person and is possibly a fictitious name) who uploaded a white paper to the Internet in 2008 (Nakamoto, 2008). The innovation is almost completely online, although the physical conversion of Bitcoins to other currencies was available from 2010 (Yermack, 2013). The scrutiny of Bitcoin is intense, partly because the possibility exists for disruption of global currency markets with an alternative unregulated by any government or organization that could be easily controlled (Böhme, Christin, Edelman, & Moore, 2015).

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