Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Janice Peck

Second Advisor

Andrew Calabrese

Third Advisor

Willard D. Rowland

Fourth Advisor

Chad Kautzer

Fifth Advisor

David L. Gross

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes processes of digital communication as processes of capital accumulation, examining what I describe as the exploitation of audience labor in the era of digital communication. Through an empirical study, guided by a development of political economic theory and informed by a historical investigation, I consider efforts on the part of communication companies to control audience activities of cultural consumption in order to profit from that control. I examine the activities of the newspaper company MediaNews Group and Google as efforts to control cultural consumption. Through a development of political economic theory, I demonstrate that controlling objects of cultural consumption is a means by which companies extract value from audience activities as audience labor. My empirical study shows that both MediaNews Group and Google profit most directly from their control over digital objects of cultural consumption, MediaNews Group through its control over access to digital news and Google through its control over access to various objects on the web. By doing so, both companies turn audience activities into audience labor over which they have control and from which they can extract value. In that way, both companies exploit digital audience labor. Through an investigation of the history of communication industries’ efforts to control cultural consumption in order to profit from audience activities, I demonstrate that there is a long history of audience labor exploitation. My empirical study of MediaNews Group and Google shows that, in the digital era, there is a basic continuity of the long history of controlling audience activities as audience labor: Although consumers of digital culture are also often capable of being producers and distributors of digital culture, it is still audience activities of cultural consumption that companies seek to control, either to charge money for access to the objects of that consumption or to give advertisers access to audiences by turning those objects of cultural consumption into advertisements. This dissertation demonstrates that the exploitation of audience labor is an essential process by which capital is accumulated through communication processes in the era of digital media and the Internet.

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