Unsettling Utopia: The Making and Unmaking of French India

You can pre-order 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.

Related Press, Lectures, and Events

Interviews and Reviews

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


In September 2021, I spoke with Samee Siddiqui for the New Books Network/New Books in South Asian Studies podcast. Listen here.

I also had the opportunity to talk with Ahsun Zafar at the Brown History Podcast Episode 24, French India with Jessica Namakkal

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.