Performative activism is a critical label that is applied to instances of shallow or self-serving support for social justice causes. The accusation rests on a distinction between what is said by supposed supporters and what they actually do. One of the challenges of understanding the rhetoricity of the phrase “performative activism” is that its definition seems to place it at odds with the most common scholarly definitions of “performative,” in which there is little or no difference between saying and doing. Nonetheless, making a distinction between what is said and done is rhetorically effective in itself. By understanding the accusation of performative activism as a type of critique, we can begin to see how such critical gestures are better understood as demands rather than condemnations.

You do not currently have access to this content.