WHERE IS THE FUTURE? Geography, Expectation and Experience across Three Decades of Malaysia’s Vision 2020


In 1991, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, announced Vision 2020 to make the country ‘fully developed’ by that year. Launched during a period of rapid economic growth, Vision 2020 legitimized Mahathir’s developmental penchant for spectacular urban megaprojects and ambitious technological experimentation. While hopes of reaching Vision 2020’s crude GDP targets were dashed even before the end of the 1990s (largely as a result of the Asian financial crisis), and Mahathir stepped down from office in 2003, the year 2020 retained significance as a horizon of expectation for a generation of Malaysians. In this Interventions essay I look back at three decades of Vision 2020 from the temporal vantage point of 2020. The lead-up to that year saw political, popular and artistic retrospection on Vision 2020, spurred in part by nonagenarian Mahathir’s return to power. Contextually, ‘Where is the future?’ articulates unrealized technological and developmental expectations from peak Vision 2020. Conceptually, the essay offers a critical geography of political futures past—demonstrating the constitutive spatiality of future expectations and the diverse ways in which elite developmental visions are engaged in life geographies, spaces of experience and representational practices.