IV-2. “Socio-Economic Change and the Development of Communication Technology in Modern Southeast Asia” (R1-2 FY2019-2020)

  • Project Leader : Kakizaki Ichiro (Yokohama City University, International College of Liberal Arts)
  • Collaborators : Ikeda Masahiro (Okayama Shoka University, Faculty 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)
  • : 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 examines socio-economic changes in Southeast Asia from the vantage point of the development of communication technology during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although nowadays the term “communication” largely refers to the means of transmitting information, during the 19th century, the term was largely recognized as referring to the means of transporting people and goods as well as information. New communication technology such as steamers, steam locomotives, and the telegraph rapidly developed during the 19th century, expanding their reach all over the world, including Southeast Asia. Such new technology allowed for rapid and low-cost means of communication, which had various impacts on the socio-economies of Southeast Asia. The comprehensive analysis of this study will reveal how society and economy in Southeast Asia was changed by new communication technologies that emerged from the industrial revolution, such as steamers, steam locomotives, and telecommunications.


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 since the 19th century enabled the rapid transportation of people, goods, and information with lower costs, which had significant impacts on economies, societies, and politics all over the world. In Southeast Asia, steamers from abroad came to call at its ports at the beginning of the 19th century, and smaller steamers began operating on its inland rivers in the latter half of the century. Railways also emerged in Southeast Asia during the same period, and as rail networks gradually expanded, inland lines connected entrepôts and hinterlands. The telegraph as a means of communicating information also emerged during the same period, not only incorporating Southeast Asia into international telecommunication networks, but also enabling the creation of rapid internal information-communicating networks. While macro networks using maritime navigation and the telegraph centered in Singapore or Hong Kong materialized first, micro domestic networks with coastal or inland navigation and railways in each country/colony followed. Introduction of such new technologies largely expanded the flows of people, goods, and information, which influenced the socio-economies of Southeast Asia from various aspects.

The significance of this study is the re-evaluation of socio-economic changes in Southeast Asia from the perspective of the development of communication technology. It is expected that this study will elucidate the importance of the development of communication technology on various socio-economic changes in Southeast Asia, something that has been overlooked by previous studies of this period.

The study is critical in helping us better understand the ongoing and potential impacts of the current communication revolution, which is rapidly progressing contemporarily in Southeast Asia with the introduction of highways, high-speed railways, internet connectivity, and broad use of smartphones. Elucidation of how Southeast Asia utilized communication technology during the communication revolution of the 19th century will provide important insights into how the present-day communication revolution will influence socio-economics in Southeast Asia.

The Phnom Penh station, the starting point of the Cambodia line, aiming at rice transport from Battambang (2016).

A bridge of the suspended Tan Ap–Tha Khaek line, the first railway to Laos if materialized, being used as a road bridge near Tha Khaek in Laos (2011).