Digital localisation in an illicit market space: interactional creation of a psychedelic assemblage in a darknet community of exchange

Sociology of drugs and digital sociology—albeit for different reasons—need the analysis of interactions, an approach underdeveloped in current scholarship. The researchers address this gap by providing a specific analytical framework for the analysis of digital interactions which enables an ethnomethodological account of micro-interactional dynamics within a cryptomarket: an anonymous darknet market of  illicit drugs.

As a case study the ‘PsychForumMarket’ was chosen which is unusual in that it operates as a forum based market space and explicitly rejects centralised technical market solutions such as escrow and encryption systems. Instead, it emphasises personal relationships between buyers and vendors as the basis of trust. Hence it forms a community of exchange, both material and cultural.

The data were collected through a process of manual scraping from the forum from 2017 to 2020. The data was purposefully sampled to construct a ‘thick data’ set, and analysed thematically to examine the micro interactional turn taking, sanctioning and norming processes by which the market culture is normalized and embedded.

This market is a laboratory to investigate the constitutive nature of digital group interactions. Due to the very nature of this market the disciplining process cannot lie with external authorities. Interactions between community members are permeated with mutual monitoring and policing. The researchers find that in and through digital communication a particular culture emerges to which individuals who wish to join this community have to ascribe. The researchers refer to this particular culture as a ‘psychedelic assemblage,’ i.e., a local constellation of cultural constructs which frames the experience of drug using and trading. The investigation reveals the constitutive methods which enable the norming of members’ practices and underpin the emergence of a shared lifeworld which in turn ensures the operability of this cryptomarket.

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