Performative Activism and Activist Performance: Young People Engaging in Decolonial Feminist Community Psychology in Contemporary South African Contexts

  • Tamara SheferEmail author
Part of the Community Psychology book series (COMPSY)


The last few years of widespread protest and activism initiated by young Black South Africans within a project of decolonization have been critical for the larger context of social justice in the post-apartheid democracy. Importantly student activism has reminded not only higher education, but the country more widely, that the challenges in the ‘new’ democracy need to address the complex intersections of racial capitalism and patriarchy, the long heritage of the violences of colonization and continued white, male and Eurocentric dominance and privilege. Young people have deployed a powerful intersectional and decolonial discourse that brings the inequalities of race, gender, sexuality, age, dis/ability to centre stage through a range of creative, performative modalities that also engage the body, affect, materiality and subjective experience. Significantly, these efforts reinvigorate a role for a critical, feminist and community psychology in the acknowledgement of the psychosocial demands of social change. The chapter argues that the proliferation of what I term performative activism and activist performance by young people through both activist and artistic interventions provide an important example of what Boonzaier and van Niekerk (2019) term ‘modes of engagement, research, dialogue and reflexive practice that espouse principles of an emerging decolonial feminist community psychology’ in the introduction to this volume. Drawing on a proliferation of such activism and art over the last few years in South Africa, which specifically engage materiality, bodies and affect, I argue for the generative impact of such disruptions to current orthodoxies and practices in higher education and in patriarchal racial-capitalist inequalities and injustices more generally. Through these examples, I explore the way in which transgression, bodies and the ‘taking of space’ is deployed to disrupt, disturb and destabilize normative patterns of intersectional gender and sexual inequality, injustice and violence in South African higher education and society more broadly. Such examples will also be drawn on to unpack the way in which counter-hegemonic identities, practices and performances claim public space to disturb continued marginalisations and exclusions. The chapter argues that a critical, decolonial feminist community psychology is already there/here, and urges in line with Haraway (2016) to ‘stay with the trouble’ by acknowledging, promoting and learning lessons in dialogue with the activist and artistic actions and imaginaries of young South Africans.


Activism Performance Community psychology Decolonial feminisms Youth Gender justice 



Acknowledgements to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for funding the New Imaginaries for Gender and Sexual Justice Project. Thanks to the editors of this volume for their patience and support, and to Karen Graaf for assistance with literature. My appreciation to the inspiring work of activists and artists in South Africa, on the continent and elsewhere.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Women’s and Gender StudiesUniversity of the Western CapeCape TownSouth Africa

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