What is it about?

Colonial nostalgia is a phenomenon which is often expected almost by default to be a sentiment that occurs among former colonial powers. In practice, though, that is far from the case: Although this may appear surprising at first, colonial nostalgia also makes an appearance in former colonies. Where nostalgia among former colonial powers has been both expected and well explored in much research, analytical surprise and uneasiness about similar sentiments among the formerly colonised has led to less engagement with the question of how, and on which terms colonial nostalgia is produced and makes sense from the perspective of former colonies. This, however, limits our understanding of how colonial nostalgia operates. This article explores colonial nostalgia from the position of Puducherry, the capital of the former French India. It shows how colonial nostalgia is co-produced in a complex context where multiple perspectives both within and across the former colonial power and the former colony intersect, and where a multitude of post/colonial interests, imaginaries and identities are at play. As we see here, nostalgia is much more than unwarranted rosy images of the past or bad history – sometimes it is even about postcolonial critique; and it is as much directed to the present and the future as to the past.

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Why is it important?

Previous research on colonial nostalgia has frequently privileged the perspective of the former colonies by assuming that these are the natural habitat of such sentiments. This limits our understanding of how colonial nostalgia makes sense and why it occurs. Nostalgia needs to be understood not as a uniform 'thing' or concept, but as it is created in distinctive contexts, and we need to be mindful that these include former colonies, which are characterised by particular historical relationships and sociocultural settings which need to be understood on their own terms. We also need to understand how discourses, imaginaries and sentiments of colonial nostalgia may be both connected, coproduced and contested across any easy assumptions about divides between former colonisers and formerly colonised.

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This page is a summary of: ‘Out through the door and in through the window?’: Positioning colonial nostalgia for French India in Puducherry, International Journal of Francophone Studies, September 2022, Intellect,
DOI: 10.1386/ijfs_00045_1.
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