SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Performance and Politics

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

This second year undergraduate class will focus on the variety of ways in which performance is enacted in politics, broadly construed. It will augment more conventional approaches to politics by demonstrating the ways in which performance either attempts to soften and legitimise or conversely challenge and subvert institutions, interests, and power. The first third of the class concentrates on the concepts behind performance (rhetorical persuasion, narrative, symbol and script) and the key elements of performance (props, costuming, the performer, and media edits). The second third of the class considers performances put on by the state with different degrees of audience engagement (state ceremonies,trials, and elections), and the final third of the class on performance in contestation from below or outside the regular institutions of the state (protest, social movements, and the resort to violence and terror). The module concludes with a general evaluation of what makes for effective performance in politics, and the importance of the audience.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Achieve greater fluency in writing interpretive analysis
  • Heighten awareness regarding the ubiquity of performance in politics and international studies
  • Identify the component elements of performance in politics and international studies
  • Demonstrate ability to compare and contrast different styles of performance in politicsand international studies


1 hour lecture per week

1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: where does performance fit in the study of politics and international studies?
  2. Persuasion and Power: Interactions between Performer and Audience
  3. Narative and Script
  4. Staging (props, costumes, the individual performer and media edits)
  5. Ceremonies: Domestic and International
  6. Reading Week
  7. Trials
  8. Elections
  9. Protest and Social Movements
  10. Violence and Terror
  11. Summing Up: What makes performance and politics work?

Method of assessment

Assessment is 10% Analysis of narrative segment, 20% Analysis of video excerpt of ceremony,30% Draft preliminary "scripting" exercise, 30% Analytical Essay and 10% seminar participation.

Suggested reading

  • Shirin Rai, " Political Performance: A Framework for Analysing Democratic Politics", Political Studies
  • Julia C. Strauss and Donal D.C Cruise O'brien, essays from Staging Politics: Power and Performance (IB Tauris, 2006)
  • Shirin M Rai, Milija Gluhovic, Silvija Jestrovic and Michael Saward, The Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance (forthcoming)
  • Wendy Hesford, "Staging Terror" in  Carol Martin, Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage (Palgrave 2010)
  • Elisabeth Anker, Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke, 2014)
  • Frederick Mayer, Narrative Politics:Stories and Collective Action (Oxfordf 2014)
  • Suk-young Kim, "Directing Tourists and Escapees: North Korea's Two Conflicting National Performances" in Patrick Anderson and Jisha Menon, Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict (Palgrave 2009)
  • Catherine Cole, "Performance, Transitional Justice, and the Law: South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission", Theatre Journal, 59:2, May 2007
  • Julia Strauss, State Formation in China and Taiwan, Bureaucracy, Campaign and Performance (Cambridge 2020) 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules