Disrupting democracy: Democratization conflicts as performative struggles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This article looks at disruptive political performance in the context of democratic transition. Disruptions take ownership of and re-present the past to evaluate and contest established forms of power in the post-transitional present. They thereby potentially engender conflict that can redirect the future path to consolidation. An illustrative case is the radical opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) disruption of the South African State of the Nation Address in 2015, which descended into violence. The author adopts a mixed-methods approach that prioritizes interpretive analysis and thick description. An analysis of videos of the disruptive performance in parliament is complemented by investigation of its media coverage and the real-time public reaction on Twitter. She finds that the form of the performance engenders conflict; but performance is also its subject, for it seeks to expose the vacuum of democratic substance behind the regime’s masquerade of power. While the disruptive performance therefore serves an important accountability function, it simultaneously sets a problematic course for future democratic transition as it performs this function through moral essentialism. The South African case presents a particular type of disruption with specific functions and democratic implications. But it also demonstrates that a concern with the formal aspects of performance in general is a fruitful lens for considering the relation between observable form in processes of meaning-making, its political functions and the democratic change it can effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-26
Number of pages19
JournalMedia, War and Conflict
Volume13
Issue number1
Early online date27 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

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