IV-10. “Socio-Economic Change and the Development of Communication Technology in Modern Southeast Asia” (R1 FY2019)

  • Project Leader : Kakizaki Ichiro (Yokohama City University, International College of Liberal Arts)
  • Collaborators : Ikeda Masahiro (Kobe University, Graduate School of Economics)
  • : Ota Atsushi (Keio University, Faculty of Economics)
  • : Kobayashi Atsushi (Kyoto university, Center for Southeast Asian Studies)
  • : Shiroyama Tomoko (The University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Economics)
  • : Shimada Ryuto (The University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology)
  • : Sugihara Kaoru (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Research Department)
  • : Taga Yoshihiro (Keio University, Institute of Cultural and Linguistics Studies)
  • : Nishimura Takeshi (Kansai University, Faculty of Economics)
  • : Miyata Toshiyuki (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Graduate School of Global Studies)

Outline of Research

This study will examine socio-economic changes in Southeast Asia from the vantage point of the development of communication technology during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although today the term “communication” is largely used to refer to a means of transmitting information, during the period of this study, it was largely recognized as a means of transporting people and goods as well as transmitting information. Communication technology rapidly developed during the 19th century as a result of the industrial revolution; new technology such as steamers, steam locomotives, and the telegraph emerged and expanded all over the world, including in Southeast Asia. Such new technology became a rapid and low-cost means of communication, and had various impacts on the socio-economy of Southeast Asia. The comprehensive analysis of this project will reveal how societies and economies in Southeast Asia were changed by the new communication technology during the 19th and early 20th centuries.


This study aims to analyze the relationship between socio-economic changes and the development of communication technology in Southeast Asia during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The development of communication technology beginning in the 19th century enabled the rapid transportation of people, goods, and information at lower costs, which impacted economies, societies, and politics worldwide. In Southeast Asia, steamers from outside came to call at its ports beginning in the early 19th century, and smaller steamers started operating on its inland rivers in the latter half of the 19th century. Railways also emerged in Southeast Asia during the same period; rail networks gradually expanded, emphasizing the inland lines that connected the entrepôt and its hinterland. Furthermore, the telegraph as a means of communicating information also emerged during the same period. Southeast Asia was incorporated into international telecommunication networks and created internal rapid information communication networks. While macro networks with maritime navigation and the telegraph, centering in Singapore and Hong Kong, materialized first, micro domestic networks that used coastal and inland navigation and railways in each country/colony followed. The introduction of new communication technology largely expanded the flows of people, goods, and information, which influenced the socio-economy of Southeast Asia in various aspects.

The significance of this study is to provide a re-evaluation of socioeconomic changes in Southeast Asia from the vantage point of the development of communication technology. Although a considerable number of previous studies have examined socio-economic changes in Southeast Asia during this period, most do not consider the development of communication technology. It is expected that this study will demonstrate the importance of the development of communication technology to various socio-economic phenomena.

This study is expected to contribute a more informed perspective on the implementation and socio-economic impacts of the present-day “second communication revolution.” While the emergence of steamers, steam locomotives, telegraphs, and telephones in the past is regarded as the first communication revolution, the second communication revolution is rapidly progressing at present in Southeast Asia with the introduction of highways, high-speed railways, the internet, and smartphones. Therefore, clarifying how Southeast Asia utilized communication technology during the first communication revolution, and its subsequent impacts, will present useful insights for how the second communication revolution will influence the socio-economy of today’s Southeast Asia.


Waterway in Saigon with many boats (early 20th centrury)
(Source: Université Nice Sophia Antipolisʼs Library)

The freight yard of the Bangkok station where large volume of commodities arrived from inland area (during the 1920s)
(Source: National Archives of Thailand)