Critical Essay: Reconsidering critical performativity

Laure Cabantous, Jean Pascal Gond, Nancy Harding, Mark Learmonth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Citations (SciVal)


In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of ‘critical performativity’, a concept designed to debate relationships between theory and practice and encourage practical interventions in organizational life. Notwithstanding its laudable ambition to stimulate discussion about engagement between critical management studies researchers and practitioners, we are concerned that critical performativity theory is flawed as it misreads foundational performativity authors, such as Austin and Butler, in ways that nullify their political potential, and ignores a range of other influential theories of performativity. It also overlooks the materiality of performativity. We review these limitations and then use three illustrations to sketch out a possible alternative conceptualization of performativity. This alternative approach, which builds on Butler’s and Callon’s work on performativity, recognizes that performativity is about the constitution of subjects, is an inherently material and discursive construct, and happens through the political engineering of sociomaterial agencements. We argue that such an approach – a political theory of organizational performativity – is more likely to deliver on both theoretical and practical fronts than the concept of critical performativity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-213
Number of pages17
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number2
Early online date12 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Butler
  • Callon
  • critical management studies
  • critical performativity
  • engagement
  • materiality
  • performativity as politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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