The web

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Minnesota Press


In less than a decade, the advent of the World Wide Web has allowed millions to take full advantage of the Internet by offering a seamless way to browse linked documents, including text, graphics, audio, and video, and to send E-mail and transfer files. Yet, despite the Web’s apparent offer of cheap communication for all, it is a remarkably costly medium that is unlikely to reach the majority of the world in the near future. It is the Web’s affluent clientele and the new opportunities for marketing to them that have spurred corporations to transform the Web into a consumer medium. Today, it is dif- ficult to surf without getting caught in an undertow of commodification. This essay charts the current political economy of the Web—from access to start-up to logging on to visiting the portal sites that have become our most frequent destinations—showing how our individual paths traverse crosscurrents of public subsidy and private capital at each step. This structure aims to write links between our lifeworld experience of navigating the Web and the larger political economic system. It locates the Web in a broader historical process of the commodification of information, as the market extends and inserts its logic of wage labor and capitalist exchange of information goods into new areas of life.1

Chapter of

Culture Works: The Political Economy of Culture

Part of

Cultural Politics


R. Maxwell