Blockchain and Humanitarian Data Hoards in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Activity: Talks and presentationsConference presentations


This paper explores the introduction of new cashless payment technologies within the humanitarian sector. Set up in the Za’atari refugee camp, the piloted project “Building Blocks” employ refugees’ biometric registration as “key” to everyday purchases that are recorded and stored using blockchain technology. While the project’s main stakeholders emphasize transparency, empowerment, and cost efficiency the purchase of new financial infrastructures for recipients is more ambivalent: first, despite the emphasis on transparency among stakeholders, accounts from recipients on-the-ground attest to a lack of awareness as to the operations and use of the new backend infrastructure; second, intentions to empower vulnerable households by recording their “consumer histories” as the basis for future credit assessments not only occludes the complex economic lives of refugees but further attests to a conspicuous lack of ethical consideration; finally, while Building Blocks saves transaction costs by removing the need for payment intermediaries it simultaneously reconfigures humanitarian organizations as banks and hoarders of transactional data.
Period19 Nov 2019
Event titleAAA 115th annual meeting: Changing Climates: Changing Climates of Cashlessness. Ethnographic forays into digital finance and economic transitions
Event typeConference
Conference number115
LocationVancouver, Canada, British ColumbiaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational