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Title:Behind the search box: the political economy of a global Internet industry
Author(s):Yeo, ShinJoung
Director of Research:Schiller, Dan
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Schiller, Dan
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Sandvig, Christian E.; Smith, Linda; Turner, Fred
Department / Program:Library & Information Science
Discipline:Library & Information Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Search engines
Digital capitalism
Internet industry
Political economy of information
Abstract:With the rapid proliferation of the Web, the search engine constituted an increasingly vital tool in everyday life, and offered technical capabilities that might have lent themselves under different circumstances to a sweeping democratization of information provision and access. Instead the search function was transformed into the most profitable large-scale global information industry. This dissertation examines the evolution of search engine technologies within the context of the commercialization and commodification of the Internet. Grounded in critical political economy, the research details how capital has progressively shifted information search activities further into the market, transforming them into sites of profit-making and poles of capitalist growth. It applies historical and political economic analysis by resorting to an extensive array of sources including trade journals, government documents, industry reports, and financial and business newspapers. The first chapter situates the development of the search engine within the wider political economy of the Internet industry. The second shows how the technology of search was reorganized to enable profitable accumulation. The third and fourth chapters focus on another primary concern of political economy: the labor structures and labor processes that typify this emergent industry. These pivot around familiar compulsions: profit-maximization and management control. The search industry is famous for the almost incredible perks it affords to a select group of highly paid, highly skilled engineers and managers. However, the same industry also relies not only a large number of low-wage workers but also an unprecedented mass of unwaged labor. Google and other search engines also have found means of re-constructing the practices of a seemingly bygone industrial era of labor control: corporate paternalism and scientific management. Today, the search engine industry sits at the “magnetic north pole” of economic growth – the Internet. This vital function of search is controlled disproportionately by US digital capital, mainly Google. US dominance in search seems to carry forward the existing, deeply unbalanced, international information order; however, this US-led industry actually faces jarring oppositions within a changing and conflicted global political economy. Chapter Five investigates two of the most important and contested zones: China, whose economic growth has been unsurpassed throughout the entire period spanned by this study of the search engine’s development, and which has nurtured a highly successful domestic Internet industry, including a search engine company, Baidu; and Europe, US’s long-time ally, where units of capital both European and non-European are struggling with one another. By situating search within these contexts, this chapter sheds light on the ongoing reconfiguration of international information services, and on the geopolitical-economic conflicts that are altering the dynamics of information-intensive transnational capitalism. There is a well-developed critical scholarship in political economy that foregrounds the role of information in contemporary capitalist development. This dissertation contributes to and expands this research by looking at search to uncover the capital logics that undergird and shape contemporary information provision.
Issue Date:2015-04-17
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 ShinJoung Yeo
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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