From a google I find these definitions:

  • relating to or of the nature of dramatic or artistic performance.
    • "films which push past the limits of current performative trends"
  • characterized by the performance of a social or cultural role
    • "many feminist theorists have come to stress the contextual and performative aspects of gender"
  • relating to or denoting an utterance by means of which the speaker performs a particular act
    • "I bet, I apologize, I promise"

Also, possibly more relevantly, there is:

Performative activism

Performative activism is activism done to increase one's social capital rather than because of one's devotion to a cause.

If we look at how this is used in the news:

The week that summed up the performative and inept nature of Brexit

The performative aspects took the shape of a breathless press release from the Home Office on Wednesday announcing: “Detentions under way as government prepares for first flight in nine to eleven weeks”.

Suella Braverman’s small boats crackdown is performative cruelty at its worst

The public want action to reduce dangerous Channel crossings. It also wants Britain to demonstrate competence, compassion and fairness in its response. Instead, the government has chosen a draconian form of performative cruelty that will lead only to yet more chaos, cost and human misery.

Biden’s Israel trip displays ‘performative’ approach to Gaza war

As the war in Gaza nears the end of its second week, analysts say United States President Joe Biden is increasingly acting like a wartime leader, offering a “performative” show of strength and support for Israel.

Performative airstrikes against the Houthis will achieve nothing

After more than a decade of performative sanctions, the public is slowly cottoning onto the fact that they don’t seem to offer much. Amidst this scrutiny, policymakers are increasingly drawn to what might be called the performative airstrike.

It is not at all clear what sense performative is being used here. The Performative activism definition is closest, but I do not think anyone is criticising the devotion to the cause, or that anyone is after "social capital" rather than simply votes. It kind of reads like a synonym of "ineffective" would fit most of them, but not really the Biden story.

When performative is used in the news, what do they mean?

  • 1
    @User65535 did you try an actual dictionary? Commented May 18 at 18:15
  • ...in some of those reports, 'performative' is used to describe an attempt to solve a problem, that only looks as though it will work, but may be ineffective. Commented May 18 at 18:27
  • 1
    To perform is to act. So performative in the PR sense is putting on a good show, to be hollow like lip service. Commented May 19 at 1:48
  • This question covers much the same subject, performative in sentences like The separate measure for sick leave was performative so they could say “look, we tried!”
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 19 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


Performative is sometimes used to imply that an action has been taken for its public effect and does not represent a genuine effort or emotion.

disapproving : made or done for show (as to bolster one's own image or make a positive impression on others)

But when expressing outrage is as easy as posting a hashtag, a meme, or an empty black square, there's a question of whether that outrage is genuine or performative. —Alia E. Dastigir


This disapproving use of the term has become more common in the last decade or so, and partakes more of commentary and opinion than news.

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