Performance and Power in Social Movements: Biko’s Role as a Witness in the SASO/BPC Trial

Marcus Morgan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
342 Downloads (Pure)


This article provides a case study of the relationship between performance and power in social movements. It reveals how movements are able to reiterate established cultures of resistance across time and space through performative means. It also shows how – given requisite stage settings and skilful actors – methods of performance allow movements to subvert established structures of domination to their political advantage. It does this through focussing on Steve Biko’s role as a defence witness in an apartheid-era political trial of leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). It demonstrates how, within the courtroom setting, Biko and the defendants improvised upon various pre-established codes, scripts, and dramatic techniques, augmenting the likelihood that their performances would resonate successfully with their audiences. In addition, it shows how Biko and the defendants used social performance to subvert many of apartheid’s established culture structures, enabling them not only to explicitly articulate the principles of BC philosophy, but also to implicitly embody and act them out.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-477
Number of pages22
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number4
Early online date28 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • apartheid
  • Black Consciousness Movement
  • Steve Biko
  • cultural inversion
  • social movements
  • cultural reiteration
  • performativity


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