Where is the Future? Geographies of Malaysia’s Vision 2020


About the Webinar

For a generation of Malaysians, the year 2020 held the promise of a “fully developed” future. That target and timeframe arose from the government’s Vision 2020 announced by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1991. In a speech titled “Malaysia: The Way Forward”, he sketched a set of “dimensions” along which Malaysia should strive to become a “fully developed country” and “challenges” to be confronted to realize that future. Subsequently re-presented by Mahathir in many settings – and promoted in Malay as “Wawasan 2020” – Vision 2020 seized the popular imagination. It compelled individual and collective action, yet was bound up with the persona of Mahathir himself. It received less prominence after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 2003, aged 75. There was a revival of interest in Vision 2020 immediately preceding 2020, with the prospect of reaching this long-anticipated point spurring reflection on Malaysian futures past. Much more surprising was the role Mahathir’s return played in the resurgence of Vision 2020, with the year 2020 beginning with 94-year-old Mahathir as prime minister once again.

While Mahathir’s relation to the year 2020 in Malaysia is remarkable, in this presentation, I focus on geographical dimensions of Vision 2020. My primary concern is with geographies of Vision 2020 as a political mode of future-making. What role did material and imagined geographies play in the formulation of Vision 2020 in 1990s Malaysia? What were the socio-spatial effects of Vision 2020, not only during the (first) Mahathir era, but also after he left office? And, as we approach the end of the year 2020: where is the future now? I address these questions drawing in part on my own empirical research on urban development in Malaysia from the mid-1990s. At a more conceptual level, I reflect on what Vision 2020 tells us about ways of examining “the future” in human geography, urban studies and cognate fields.

About the Speaker

Tim Bunnell is Director of the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he is also Professor in the Department of Geography. His research interests centre on human geographies of urban and regional change, including examination of the transformation of urban regions (cities and wider urban territories), and the lives and aspirations of people in those territories. Empirically, he focuses on Southeast Asia – working mostly on cities in Malaysia and Indonesia – and on interurban connections between that region and elsewhere. Prof Bunnell is the author of Malaysia, Modernity and Multimedia Super Corridor (Routledge, 2004) and From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives (Wiley, 2016). His latest book (co-edited with Daniel P.S. Goh), Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity Past and Present (Jovis, 2018), arose from an MOE AcRF Tier 2-funded research project on “Aspirations, Urban Governance and the Remaking of Asian Cities”.


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Dec 16 2020


10:00 am - 11:15 am