Flexible Institutionalisation in Auroville: A Prefigurative Alternative to Development

Suryamayi Clarence-Smith*, Lara Monticelli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Scholars interested in mechanisms of transformative change are increasingly looking at ‘real utopias’, emancipatory enactments within the mainstream that prefigure its transcendence: eco-villages and intentional communities, cooperatives, Time Banks, urban gardens, co-housing associations. Academic and activist views on these initiatives are divergent. While some argue that they are seeding the transcendence of the current dominant socio-economic and political system, others dismiss them as niches unable to socially reproduce themselves, let alone disrupt and present viable alternatives to a hegemonic mainstream. To better equip ourselves to understand their transformative potential and potentially move beyond this stalemate, in this article we examine how one of the most enduring and successful prefigurative experiments is organised and sustained. Our case study is the international township Auroville, in India, the largest intentional community in the world and one of the longest-standing. It presents a unique opportunity to examine how an alternative to development is maintained and developed within and in relationship with a dominant system, and whether prefigurative experiments can become ‘institutionalised’ while retaining a prefigurative character.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1171-1182
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 01 March 2022.


  • Prefiguration
  • Alternatives to development
  • Flexible institutionalisation
  • Autoville
  • Intentional community
  • Cooperative economy

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