Repository logo

Acting Out Ideas: Performative Citizenship in the Black Consciousness Movement

Accepted version



Change log


Morgan, M 
Baert, P 


This paper introduces the concept of ‘performative citizenship’ to account for the manner in which the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), and in particular its charismatic leader Steve Biko, transformed a collection of relatively abstract philosophical ideas into concrete political practice. We outline how the BCM challenged the psychological internalisation of white supremacy and asserted citizenship claims through a variety of performative techniques, many of which explicitly and implicitly reiterated earlier rights-based claims both in South Africa and abroad. We show how this took place within a remarkably restrictive context, which on the one hand constrained performances, but on the other augmented their dramatic efficacy. The paper makes an argument about the performance of counter-power, showing how whilst the apartheid complex retained its command over economic, military, and political power, it struggled to control the social drama that was unfolding on the cultural plane, therefore losing its grip on one key element of ideological power. Finally, the paper also makes a methodological contribution to reception studies by showing how researching the reception of ideas exclusively through the spoken or written word neglects other modes through which ideas might find expression, especially in contexts of pervasive censorship and political repression.



citizenship, social movements, apartheid, performativity, South Africa

Journal Title

American Journal of Cultural Sociology

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Isaac Newton Trust (1508(p))
Leverhulme Trust (ECF-2015-667)
The research leading to these results has received funding from a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship, the Isaac Newton Trust, and the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement no319974 (INTERCO-SSH).