This article focuses on the planned community of Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India, founded in 1968. Building on critical readings of the settlement that have drawn attention to the power imbalance in its relationships with surrounding villages, the article delineates the ways that a geographical imagination of cityness has been a key component of the settlement’s development and the forms of neo-coloniality in which it has been implicated. Drawing on archival and published sources as well as ethnographic research, the article discusses three ways in which the settlement performs a sense of its own ‘cityness-to-come’: first, the architectural discourse and planning rationality central to Auroville’s identity; second, its agonistic public sphere vis-à-vis architecture and planning, and third, its ethos of learning and evolution, and the settlement’s developmental teleology. In so doing, the article shows how ‘the city’ conceived as a textual and spatial promise, as well as a utopian aspiration, works ideologically to constitute the settlement itself, but also to precipitate social effects and uneven power relationships with village communities in this region. To sum up, this article develops an argument about the neo-colonial social work done by ‘the city’ conceived as text.
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