photo of Suryamayi Clarence-Smith

Ms Suryamayi Clarence-Smith

Post:Research student (International Development)
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I was born and raised in Auroville, the largest international community in the world, and for several years have been dedicating myself to seeking insight into and in service of this experimental township as a social scientist. I am currently completing a doctoral thesis on Auroville in Development Studies at the University of Sussex, the world-ranking university in the field, which builds on a prize-winning undergraduate thesis in Interdisciplinary Studies that I graduated summa cum laude with from the University of California, Berkeley. 

My research engages with many aspects of Aurovilian society, exploring how our ideals are engaged in practice – notably in the spheres of socio-economy, collective organization, and education – and speaks to broader frameworks of utopian and prefigurative practice, social economy and alter-development, integral yoga and education, learning societies, community and intentional community. I have presented this work in conferences worldwide, and produced and published a number of research outputs. I contribute this expertise within my community, by volunteering in our community processes and administration, for which I also draw on my professional experience in mediation.

As soon as I became involved in research on Auroville, I was struck by its richness as site of experimentation in many fields, and (underserved) potential for insightful and impactful research to be produced here, in relationship with researchers, policy-makers, educators, and industry partners worldwide. This lead me to found and co-direct The Bridge, a trans-disciplinary collaborative research encounter launched at the occasion of Auroville’s 50th anniversary in 2018, which convened an international roster of progressive researchers in Auroville to actively engage with this experiment. Since then, I have been working to concretize an on-going service in the community, the Auroville Research Platform, to facilitate interactions between visiting researchers and Auroville.  

Pursuits of an intellectual nature aside, I have been a lifelong student of conscious embodiment practices. I facilitate Awareness Through the Body, our community’s original integral education programme, and have taught hatha yoga, in Auroville and internationally.


Doctoral Researcher in Development Studies (School of Global Studies)

Other Research Roles

  • I am executive co-founder of the Auroville Research Platform, a service active since 2018 that supports fertile cooperation between visiting researchers and Auroville. If you are interested in undertaking research in Auroville, find us here.
  • I am executive co-founder of the "The Bridge": a transdisciplinary international conference and collaborative research forum launched at the occasion of Auroville's 50th anniversay in February of 2018. Watch reflections from The Bridge participants, and stay tuned for future events!
  • I am the founding convenor of a peer research group in Auroville (2016 - present)


(In Progress) DPhil in Development Studies, Department of International Development, School of Global Studies.

BA Interdisiciplinary Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Highest Distinction: Summa cum laude. GPA 4.0. (2015)


Research Interests: utopian practice, prefigurative practices, community, intentional community, autoethnography, direct democracy, participatory democracy, alternatives to capitalism. 

Doctoral Research Project"Auroville: A Utopian Community in Articulation"

Supervisors: Dr. Jon Mitchell, Prof. Ben Rogaly 

The overall aim of my doctoral research is to explore, through autoethnography, the intentional community “Auroville” ­– my hometown – located in Tamil Nadu, South India, as a site of utopian practice. I seek to understand (1) how the community’s spiritual aspirations are embodied and articulated, individually and collectively, and (2) what influence this has in shaping how Auroville is constructed, experienced and sustained as a community. I hope my research can yield theoretical understandings and practical insights into how communal utopian practice is enabled and/or disabled that are relevant for fostering and furthering such practice in Auroville and other contemporary communal contexts with utopian aspirations.  

Other Research Projects:



  • 2017 – "What is Research in the Context of Auroville?" Research Survey undertaken in affiliation with the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER). 
  • 2016 – "Auroville Education Survey (1968 – 2013)". Survey analysis and publication. 


Prizes, Grants and Awards:

  • 2016: Center for Communal Studies Undergraduate Paper Prize. Awarded for my undergraduate thesis "Auroville: A Practical Experiment in Utopian Society."
  • 2018: Government of India Auroville 50th Anniversary Grant, Auroville. Awarded for the Auroville 50th Anniversary Conference Project, The Bridge. 
  • 2018: Doctoral Overseas Conference Grant, University of Sussex. Awarded for presentations of research at various international conferences

Conference Presentations, Workshops, Panels and Guest Lectures:

Conference Presentations



  • Oct 2018 – "Beyond Resistance: Prefigurative Politics Towards Alternative Forms of Social Reproduction," workshop co-facilitated with Dr. Lara Monticelli, Prof. Laura Horn, and Dr. Ana Cecilia Dinerstein at the 3rd International Marxist-Feminist Conference, "Transforming Oursleves, Transforming Lives," University of Lund, Sweden.
  • Sep 2018 – "Participatory Democracy: What's Next," workshop facilitated in collaboration with Andreas Zaunseder and Nathan Bower-Bir at the Radical Democratic Citizenship, Grassroots Political Practice Conference, University of Aberdeen, UK.
  • June 2018 – Participated in the Antiuniversity "Roleplay a Coop!" workshop.

Guest Lectures

Public Presentations

  • June 2019 – "Auroville: a 50-years old experiment in Alternative Society" at the Headstrong Club in Lewes. Details here.
  • March 2017 – "Auroville Education Survey: 1968 - 2013." Community Presentation, Auroville. Listen here.


  • Aug 2019 (Forthcoming) – "Auroville: A Sustained Alternative, Experimental Society", Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire.
  • Oct 2019 (Forthcoming) – Exhibition on Auroville, Dhaba Cafe, University of Sussex.


Visiting Scholar: