Performing Identity or Performing Relationships? Rethinking Performance Theory in Social Media Studies

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Much of the discussion of performance and collective action presupposes a hierarchical performer–audience structure along the lines of Durkheimian public events intended to reaffirm a collective identity. Scholars have generally overlooked an alternative, horizontal formulation of ‘performance of relationships’ in which viewers serve as a third party to the social exchange. While such a performance is central to social media interactions, most studies of performance on social media focus on the presentation of self and the affirmation of personal identity rather than the performance of relationships. To demonstrate and address this gap, this article provides a typology of four theoretical approaches to performance: performing the self, performing values, performing friendship, and performing complicity. These approaches are placed along two dimensions – an individual versus collective focus and an identity versus relationship focus – and employed in relation to recent studies on social media and collective action. The article suggests that the performance of relationship approach might equally account for societal solidarity, understood not only as a byproduct of identity affirmation but also as a direct consequence of concrete social relationships.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCultural Sociology
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Simmel
  • complicity
  • dramaturgical approach
  • friendship
  • performance theory
  • social media
  • social networks
  • social performance
  • solidarity


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