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Critical Essay: Reconsidering critical performativity

Cabantous, L.; Gond, J.P.; Harding, N.; Learmonth, M.

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L. Cabantous

J.P. Gond

N. Harding

M. Learmonth


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.


Cabantous, L., Gond, J., Harding, N., & Learmonth, M. (2016). Critical Essay: Reconsidering critical performativity. Human Relations, 69(2), 197-213.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 7, 2015
Online Publication Date Aug 12, 2015
Publication Date Feb 1, 2016
Deposit Date Apr 15, 2015
Publicly Available Date Apr 20, 2015
Journal Human Relations
Print ISSN 0018-7267
Electronic ISSN 1741-282X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 69
Issue 2
Pages 197-213
Keywords Butler, Callon, Critical management studies, Critical performativity, Engagement, Materiality, Performativity as politics.
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (270 Kb)

Copyright Statement
Cabantous, L. and Gond, J. P. and Harding, N. and Learmonth, M. (2016) 'Critical essay : reconsidering critical performativity.', Human relations., 69 (2). pp. 197-213. Copyright © The Author(s) 2015. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.

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