Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Janice Peck

Second Advisor

Andrew Calabrese

Third Advisor

Stewart Hoover

Fourth Advisor

Nabil Echchaibi

Fifth Advisor

Carla Jones


This dissertation is a communication history of the early communist anti-colonial movement in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1920-1926. While for three centuries struggles against Dutch imperialism had been sporadic, local, and traditional in character, in this period people organized themselves for the first time in a radical, national, and global revolutionary movement. Rather than resort to weapons and warfare, the resistance movement developed collective actions around new emerging communicative technologies and practices—“media of resistance”—that included schools, public debates, popular journalism, arts, and literature. The dissertation examines the processes by which ordinary people produced these media of resistance as a new way of organizing and mobilizing. The aim is twofold: first, to reveal the centrality of communicative sociotechnical systems (practices, processes, and technologies) in the emergence, development, success, and demise of a social movement; and, second, to highlight the roles of ordinary people in that process, a focus hidden in the previous historiography due to leader-, party-, and formal event-centered narratives. I utilize underexplored concepts of mobility and sociability to analyze shipping and railway lines, openbare vergaderingen (public meetings), People’s Schools, the revolutionary newspaper Sinar Hindia, as well as government legal interventions into these communicative practices. This research suggests two main findings. First, while the aforementioned media of communication were intended to expand colonial power, the ordinary people in the movement creatively repurposed and brought them together to become the “media of resistance,” revealing the centrality of media of communication in the making of a social movement. These creative repurposing practices point to the nature of communicative sociotechnical systems as projects and sites of struggle. Second, through historical GIS method, I also find that the movement was mobilized for the first time across widespread geographical areas, as well as across different cultural borders and identity markers. This widespread solidarity gave voice to anti-colonial sentiments, Islamic modernism, national liberation, women’s emancipation, and human rights, appealing to universal concerns. The dissertation concludes by arguing for the broader significance of this research for global media studies, its treatment of non-western experiences, and studies of enlightenment and social movements.