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Crypto-hopes at times of crisis: Ethnographic examination of cryptocurrency trading in Istanbul

With Wesam Hassan
4 Mar 2024
With Wesam Hassan

This research paper is rooted in an 18-month ethnographic study of individuals actively engaged in economic speculation in Turkey during the 2021-2022 economic crisis. This paper delves into the dynamics of cryptocurrency trading, examining it as an endeavour influenced by both luck and skill, while also viewing it as a means of building savings in response to fluctuating national currency and political conditions. The ongoing economic crisis permeated everyday conversations, with participants perceiving economic volatility as having transformed the national currency, making it closely resemble the volatile nature of cryptocurrency tokens. Drawing on the fields of economic anthropology and gambling, this paper explores the rise of cryptocurrency trading in Turkey since 2019, investigates the imaginaries of wealth, both with and without labour, and examines the materiality of money as a token and commodity within the context of speculative economic practices in post-crisis economic capitalism. This research highlights the economic challenges faced by small businesses, the working class, and the precariat in Turkey during the crisis, emphasising their daily struggles. As individuals sought ways to support their families amid economic uncertainties and lira devaluation, those with savings in Turkish lira turned to exchange it for Euro and US dollars and cryptocurrency trading. Furthermore, the paper argues that cryptocurrency trading is a contested topic in the Turkish context, reflecting a dissonance between traditional values that condemn easy money and emphasise hard work and the capitalistic realities of neoliberal accumulation since the 1980s.

Wesam Hassan is an anthropologist and a physician by training. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, in which she is researching state-regulated games of chance practices and perceptions. In her MA thesis, she researched biomedical uncertainty through investigating the governance of HIV-positive subjectivities and its related biopolitics in Egypt. She thinks through concepts of uncertainty, speculation, gambling, and risk. She led several ethnographies researching material culture and consumption habits in Iran, Egypt, London, and Turkey. Some of these ethnographies have investigated womanhood and cleaning rituals in Iran, online gambling and betting in London, and the perception and usage of the Internet of Things and smart homes as a concept in Egypt. Prior to her academic career, Wesam worked as a public health specialist and researcher with United Nations agencies, John Hopkins University, and INGOs with a special focus on the intersectionality between HIV and AIDS, gender, harm reduction, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.



Wesam Hassan

doctoral candidate in social anthropology, University of Oxford

Wesam is an anthropologist and a physician by training. Currently she is researching state-regulated games of chance practices and perceptions