Unsettling Utopia: The Making and Unmaking of French India

You can Unsettling Utopia: The Making and Unmaking of French India directly from Columbia University Press, or your local bookseller! If you order through Columbia University Press, receive 20% off the price with the code CUP20

About the book

After India achieved independence from the British in 1947, there remained five scattered territories governed by the French imperial state. It was not until 1962 that France fully relinquished control. Once decolonization took hold across the subcontinent, Western-led ashrams and utopian communities remained in and around the former French territory of Pondicherry—most notably the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the Auroville experimental township, which continue to thrive and draw tourists today.

Unsettling Utopia presents a new account of the history of twentieth-century French India to show how colonial projects persisted beyond formal decolonization. Through the experience of the French territories, Jessica Namakkal recasts the relationships among colonization, settlement, postcolonial sovereignty, utopianism, and liberation, considering questions of borders, exile, violence, and citizenship from the margins. She demonstrates how state-sponsored decolonization—the bureaucratic process of transferring governance from an imperial state to a postcolonial state—rarely aligned with local desires. Namakkal examines the colonial histories of the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, arguing that their continued success shows how decolonization paradoxically opened new spaces of settlement, perpetuating imperial power. Challenging conventional markers of the boundaries of the colonial era as well as nationalist narratives, Unsettling Utopia sheds new light on the legacies of colonialism and offers bold thinking on what decolonization might yet mean.

Interviews and Reviews

Jyoti Mohan, review of Unsettling Utopia in the American Historical Review (March, 2023).

Ananya Jahanara Kabir, review of Unsettling Utopia in South Asia: The Journal of South Asian Studies (October 11, 2022).

Andrew Davies, review of Unsettling Utopia in H/Soz/Kult (January 21, 2022).

Sohel Sarkar, “Colonial continuities of the ‘good coloniser'” Himal Southasian (February 7, 2022).

Chintan Girish Modi, Review of Unsettling Utopia in the Hindustan Times (October 29, 2021)

Author in Focus, Cerebration: The Literary Journal

An interview with Rohan Venkataramakrishnan for scroll.in, “Interview: Jessica Namakkal on what Auroville tells us about the ‘end of colonialism and empire'” September 11, 2021

#DesiBooks10QA with Jenny Bhatt of Desibooks Podcast, July 2021


Conversation with Suchitra Vijayan for the Polis Project podcast. Listen here.

Conversation with Matthew Dagher-Margosian for Asia Art Tours: The Art of Travel podcast, Episode 1 “Decolonizing French India” and Episode 2 “Auroville: India’s Settler Utopia”.

Conversation with Omer Haq for the India Colonised podcast. Listen here.

Conversation with Léopold Lambert for Archipelago, the Funambulist podcast, Listen here.

Conversation with Samee Siddiqui for the New Books Network/New Books in South Asian Studies podcast. Listen here.

Conversation with with Ahsun Zafar for the Brown History Podcast Episode 24, French India with Jessica Namakkal

Book Talks, Conversations, and Lectures

Book talk and conversation with Jayita Sarkar, Kalyani Ramnath, and Andrew Smith. Part of the Boston University Global Decolonization Initiative “Decolonization-in-Progress” series.

Book Launch event, 14 July 2021

This video features the author in conversation about the book with Durba Mitra, Cemil Aydin, Danna Agmon, Durba Ghosh, and Raphaëlle Khan.

Book talk for the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, October 2 2020