Research studies

Performative and Performativity: Sufi Festival at Fes Morocco as a Case Study


Prepared by the researcher  

DR: Abdel Hamid NFISSI – Professor specialized in culture, media, and literature

 AFAF EL MAHDI – A PhD candidate specialized in culture, media and literature studies, University of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah. Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, Sais-Fes, Morocco

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Twelfth Issue – February 2022

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin.

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN  2628-6475
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies

:To download the pdf version of the research papers, please visit the following link


This article aims to study the differences among three important elements of behaviourism and people interaction. These three elements are; performance, performative and performativity in addition to the relationship that gathers all these elements with festivals and their impact on the audience behaviour. Besides, the article provides definitions of the three elements and other concerned terms like speech act. The main purpose of the article in to clarify each word alone and to mention its relation with the other from a general standpoint then from an artistic point of view.


         The human life world is about speech utterances and speech act, the daily routine of every man or woman is consisting of performative and performativity. The performance is innate in us, nobody can talk without performing the action, it is a being with a doing. This chapter is a study about the difference between performative and performativity and it is also an investigation about the relation among performative, performativity, audience and musical festivals.  So, what is performative and performativity? And what is their process of work in the festivals?

Performative versus Performativity

The first scholar who formulates and gives much more time and importance to the topic of performative and performativity is J.L. AUSTIN, he writes books explaining, performance, performative, and performativity. The concept of performance is more used in drama, cinema and theatre, it is a term which used in other domains like the work of a player, a machine, a company or an investment, it is the skill of a crafty person or machine or a piece of art.

 The following quotes are said by J.L. AUSTIN through which he mentions some of his thinking about performative and performativity.

 You are more than entitled not to know what the word ‘performative’ means. It is a new word and an ugly word, and perhaps it does not mean anything very much. But at any rate there is one thing in its favor, it is not a profound word[1].

In these examples it seems clear that to utter the sentence (in, of course, the appropriate circumstances) is not to describe my doing of what I should be said in so uttering to be doing or to state that I am doing it: it is to do it[2].

According to Austin, the performative is a speech with a doing, in other words, sentences and phrases are not simple letters voiced out but these utterances are carrying actions with themselves. Performative means the act that is transmitted via the performative language like promising, betting, swearing, and performing a marriage ceremony.  Performativity is coined in a perfunctory way; it is a term that appears meanwhile a trend called speech act theory[3].

Constative and Performative Language

Austin states that they are two contrasting views of language, there is a constative language and another one that is performative. The constative language is true, false statement, it is interrogative questions and exclamation sentences[4]; the constative language is descriptive and narrative. The performative language is neither a descriptive sentence nor a narrative one, the performative language is an utterance with a doing, it is spoken with an action[5]; for example, during a wedding ceremony, the priest asks the couple whether they accept and they answer by I do so it is an utterance with an action, the second example, ‘I name this ship the queen Elizabeth’, spoken when breaking a bottle against the hull of the ship[6].


Performative is an utterance with an action that is to say it is a verbal piece of information with acting the action in the real world, but there is a performative in the art world that seems non-serious performative. The performative I am addressing is of festivals, this kind of performative is seen as serious since the place of deliberating the utterance is not an art of literature but is a means of media advertisement.

Performative is something that becomes a ritual in the language and basically with the ordinary language. The language for some is perceived as ordinary but for others, there is a kind of normativity inside the language. The word normativity means abiding by the rules and the circumstances, normativity is defined as the following: “normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad as undesirable or impermissible”[7] ; therefore, the articulation and the performative are not the birth of a time but is something produced from the inside of the locution and the illocution.

The performative of the festivals is deliberated in the language spoken by the idol of the scene. To start with, the world nowadays is revealed in the overall scenes and the daily life of people around the world and also in the language. The universal language of nowadays changes from the tissue of the bodies, there are sets of the language that helps in one way or another in the performative actions, the purpose from this is implementing the actions in the real world either via language or via customary life of people[8].

Sometimes, there is a digression or insincerity of performative speech and the content and other times not[9]. This contrasting view is seen in the performative scenes that are only urging one’s unconscious and motivating him or her to follow the wave of the entertainment since the utterance is void of any useful benefit. On the other hand, some are bonded to their performative utterances, which means they reveal what their inner self says and they create a Sufi atmosphere.

Rules of performative scenes and roles of the performer are a kind of diplomacy and reattachment. To start with, there is an embedded commitment between the performer and the audience, this bonds which is a recent birth of the performance is a kind of duty that gathers the audience with the idol, the kind of relationship is an agreement or convention that begins at a certain time and place and ends up at a certain place and time. This comes up with a social contract or social obligation that connects between both of the viewers and the performers, and it appears in the language spoken by the audience[10].

            A speech act is a term coined by Searle and it is a partner of performative theory. To start with, certain features specify the targeted speech act; for example, a valid act is that act that is suitable to the mood of the environment[11]; secondly, the act is not something that comes out from nature but it is nurtured, in the sense, it is cultural evocative[12]. As a clear meaning of speech act, it is “an utterance that serves a function in communication. We perform speech act when we offer an apology, greeting, request, complaint, invitation, compliment, or refusal[13]”. Moreover, a successful performance is depending on the following conditions, there should be common semantics and referential elements; second, there should be a compromise between the speech act and the intention (thought) also with the place of speech act[14].

Being performative is an action that is carried when a person or collective can derive from the pre-identity to a new identity. To start with, the identity is not born with us, it is not something that is innate but it is something required and achieved according to a person’s believes and attitudes; hence, culture is the process of identity composition[15].  Culture is responsible for one’s cultural identity, it is the making of one’s identity, the activities done by an individual or a group is not coming from the inside to the outside but it is the reverse.


The life process of a person is like a machine playing a certain role and doing a certain job, this is like people and individuals performing actions and acts abiding by the general system. To start with, this audiences or people, in general, are performing culture, a culture that might be theirs or not[16] . Performance is an act that is basically in theatres and cinema but in real life, it is not; on the other hand, the performative is adopted from festivals since they are free to access and the audiences are being performative.

  Ordinary social intercourse is itself put together as a scene is put together,  by the exchange of dramatically inflated actions, counteractions, and  terminating replies. Scripts even in the hands of unpractised players can   come to life because life itself is a dramatically enacted thing. All the worldis not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify[17].

Social intercourse is a performance that becomes a kind of performative since it is not on platform but it is on the stage of humans behaving and interacting. The case of this thesis is the festivals and the audience are being performative, they utter what the idol or singer speaks up and they repeat after him or her so it is a kind of performative; in fact, it is role-playing and one’s shaping identity and physical appearance[18]. To conclude, performative acts are the result of one’s place and social interaction.

            Historically speaking, the concept of performativity is traced back to the linguist philosopher J.L. Austin in his book How to do things with words during the 1960 and he sets up the foundation of performative[19].  Performativity is “the capacity of speech and communication not simply to communicate but rather to consummate an action or to construct and perform an identity [20]”, the term performativity has been used by many scholars in different fields and domains but it has one sense which is the acting of certain actions according to the circumstances of one’s place and its favourite believes.

Judith Butler is the most known thinker by the word performativity, she writes books about performativity from a gender perspective. Today and via this article, there will be an investigation of the same thought and perceptions of Judith Butler on the aim of the paper are the Musical Moroccan festivals. Let’s first explain the vision of Judith Butler about performativity. To begin with, according to Judith Butler, performativity means the power of language to affect human’s behaviour[21], as far as Judith Butler is concerned, gender is socially and culturally constructed, it is not naturally built but there are outside features and population factors that affect the construction of sex either female or male. This socialization is due to entertainment factors or cultural factors.

            Performativity in the field of music festivals is prescribed in the show of the idol. To start with, this kind of performative is a sort of performativity since the audience who are being performative and following the streams and the waves of an idol bring about later performativity adopted from the spectacle. For example, the changing of lifestyles (clothes, food, and behaviour) is a sort of performativity in addition to westernizing the language. Hence, musical festivals are a direct media influence on the Moroccan People performativity.

The Sufi Festival and the concepts of performative and performativity.

The Sufi festival is one of the oldest festival organized in Morocco and bascially in the city of Fez. In 2021  is the fourteen version of the festival and it was held between, 09 and 16 October in an old traditional palace in the old medina of Fez under the name of travelling to the high places of Sufism. This version permits the lovers of sufism to wander and discover the beautiful features and the deepness of this spiritual heritage around the world. The programme is the following :fi heritage in its various cultural expressions. Especially in the present times we are currently facing, and in which the question of the searc

The program is fruitful with workshops, seminars and visits to old and ancient places in the old medina of Fez all these activities to approach the culture of sufisim more to the audience and particiants of the festival. The event is heavy in terms of its thought, knowldege, and narrations of sufi stories and incidents.  For instance, the first day were seminars in Arabic and French , all are doing performative act because people are dreaming and traveling with the lecturer to the world of sufisim like the first seminar of Mr Moulay Abdellah Ouzzani who travels with the audience to the world of Al Salat Al- Mashiyya and Ibn Ajiba live. So, the audience survives with the lecturer and tries to act the verbal acts of the speaker in their consciousness without doing any movement. Moreover, the lecture of the opening night under the title of THE SYMBOLIC OF THE VOYAGE IN SUFI CULTURE, The music of ziarat ( visits to shrines in Balochistan, India, Iran by Jean illustrated wih music and this is a kind of performative because it contains all the definitions and characteristics that I have discussed before. Furthermore, the lecturer Moulay Abdallah Ouzzani gives a lecture called Tafsir spiritual of the Koran according to Ibn Ajiba’s commentary and tries to get in the explanations of Ibn Ajiba. Finally, there were exhibitions     as well in the festival like Vernissage Exhibition of Najoua El Hitmi’s YOU ARE FOREVER A TRAVELER to keep that link between the sufi men and women and  the world of sufisim and here it comes performativity since the lessons taken from sufisim and the believes of these followers of sufism transform to performativity and daily acting of sufi rituals.

The festival manages to make music, cinema, and tour to the old spiritual places of the city in order to live the spirit of Sufism. For instance, the programme based on the mood of Samaa’ and it was called the traveling in the Sufi Maqamat, the first Samaa’ was by the Whirling Dervishes from Rum’s Mausoleum in Koney Turkey. Also, there is a seminar of listening to the Sufi texts by Amal Ayouch as a form of living with the performative act of speaking under the title Kabir the holy weaver of Benares (India): the flute of Infinity. The second Samaa’ and the therapeutic aspect of music in Muslim culture ( music therapy) master class by Jean portrayed by musical moments. There was on the fourth day a Samaa of the Charqaouiya Brotherhood and the Squaliya Brotherhood. Ultimately, the festival ended by Samaa’ of the Tidjaniya of Niger. All these Samaa are sort of performative that exhibits to the audience a parole with an act. Furthermore, cinema is also present during the days of the festival, there was a movie about the journey of Ibn Battuta from Tangier to Mecca, a special youth screening with educational introduction. The organizers of the festival chose the film of the journey of Ibn Battuta from Tangier to take the largest place of pilgrimage in Sufism, Mecca.  Ibn Battuta takes us through the high places of Sufism such as Cairo, Damascus or Medina.

 It is a special documentary where the viewers recognize with Ibn Battuta landscape of extreme beauty like so many sources of meditation, crossing the mountains including Mount Arafat, traveling in the desert, on the Nile or the Red Sea. It is a traeling with Ibn Battuta the world of Sufism discovering the performative act of the traveller Ibn Battuta. Last but not least, there were tours to the old medina to the heritage of Fes and spirituality like the Library of the Al Quaraouiyine University and Medersa bou inania, also the calligraphy and sacred geometry.

The term of performativity exists in the streams of sufism; many people who adopt the philosophy of sufism take that philosophy from books to their habitual real life. To start with, sufism as a discpline and art urges its followers to act as the science exhibits that is why these followers are wearing and performing in certain performativity that is the result of their contact and socialization with the scholars of sufism. The title of the festival in its 14th version is a journey to Maqamat of Sufism and it would reveal the most important treasures of the Sufi heritage.

 To reach this Maqamat of Sufism, the festival organized round table discussion, music parties of spiritual songs, and exhibitions of paintings. As far as I am concerned, all these act are included in the aim of performativity and to socialize the people on the messages of sufism from the lyrics of its philosphers and poets. In all the days of the festival were creative parties of hearing to the different appraoches of sufism from Morocco and the world, also, there were intellectual meetings for exchanging thought and learn from each other, there are masterclasses online to keep in contact with the audience even after the festival. Finally, it is managed to attend some courses with limited numbers in Medersa Bou inania.

The festival’s days were full of activities and lectures by expertes in the world of sufism. The festival is a chance to disover the beautiful expressions and the depth that sufism constitutes around the world. This version would like to take its listeners or audience to a world of Maqamat to search for sense which is based on to build individual and group projects and it is the soul of every culture and every creativity and every social intelligence. Furthermore, in the palace of Shahrazad gathers all the scholars and participants of Sufism to listen to the music of Sufism and surf in the world of spirituality and the sacred places. The presedent of the festival Faouzi Skali says during the festival

The Sufi heritage is rich and a sea with no coast, it get renewed every year according to the circumstances that we are living. It is a matter of thought and vivid thought and it is not just a university matter.

We try this year to walk through the path of Maqamat Sufism not just at the level of geography and history, but through analog platform that would make it easy to travel and also through concept of Sufism and its meaningful and symbolic side that be in the heritage of Fes since centries ago.

The phenomena of performative and performativity is an act that we practise but it was not theorised like before and now by thinkers and scholars who explain and analyse the pheonomena from theories and standpoints that seem logical and acceptable to reason. The reason to choose this festival is because of its theme and in general the concpet of Sufism which carries from the senses of performative and performativity the lots. The festival focuses on themes that serve the meaning of performative because as mentioned before are sessions of listening and praising of God , seminars , discussions, art gallery, listening to poetry and sufi texts, in addition to tours to saints like Tijania, Fassia, and the cemetrey of righteous people like the pole of the sufi man Abdelaziz Debar. Besides, there were visits to the heritage of Fez to follow the Sufi side in its architecture. All these practices are sort of performative because they move from the lesctures and seminars to doing which is the visiting to these Sufi and spiritual places as well to the architecture that uncover the world of the sufi poet and inspire the audience to see how much they were artistic.

Performativity is the outcome of the festival is when the participants and the audience get a general overview and attatchment to sufism and would like to adapt and adopt the sufi philosophy in their daily life and would like to learn from other sufi streams like the sufism in the east: Iran and Turkey. Thanks to the sufi culture , the world could co-exist and live with each other because there is the impact of the sufi philosophy works on the socialization of the human beings and as a result these followers of the sufi culture become doing performativity in their habitual life, as the Doctore Faouzi Skali declares to the press ;

The sufi culture exists everywhere and it has richness and a power. The new thing that the festival provides is the idea and the vision of culture that is the sufi culture which would be a reference to all the sufi followers around the world and thus creates a common heritage.


To sum up, the above article is a detail explanation of the term’s performance, performative and performativity. Personally speaking, after reading about performative and performativity I could not deny that these concepts are the basic of studying behaviourism, life style and the construction of people. There is a big link between the three and the outside factors from media and street and festivals are one of these factors that via performative and performativity reshape people’s identities and cultures.


Companion Websites. “Performance Studies: An Introduction – Victor Turner’s Social Drama.” You Tube, uploaded by AFAF, 17 Dec. 2012,

Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007.

The Audiopedia. “What Is PERFORMATIVITY? What Does PERFORMATIVITY Mean? PERFORMATIVITY Meaning & Explanation.” You Tube, uploaded by AFAF, 18 Apr. 2017,

The Moroccan online Newspaper hespress;

[1] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P, 6.

[2] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P,8.

[3] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007.P,1.

[4] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P, 7.

[5] – Ibid. P, 8.

[6] – Ibid. P, 8.

[7] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P, P32.

[8] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P,35.

[9] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P, 38.

[10] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P, 52.

[11] – Ibid. P, 52.

[12] – Ibid. P,48.

[13] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P,60.

[14] – Ibid. P, 48.

[15] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P, 118.

[16]– Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P,140.

[17] -Ibid. P,151.

[18] – Loxly, James. Performativity. 1 st, vol. One, New York, Routledge, 2007. P,151.

[19] – Companion Websites. “Performance Studies: An Introduction – Victor Turner’s Social Drama.” You Tube, uploaded by AFAF, 17 Dec. 2012,

[20] – The Audiopedia. “What Is PERFORMATIVITY? What Does PERFORMATIVITY Mean? PERFORMATIVITY Meaning & Explanation.” You Tube, uploaded by AFAF, 18 Apr. 2017,

[21] – The Audiopedia. “What Is PERFORMATIVITY? What Does PERFORMATIVITY Mean? PERFORMATIVITY Meaning & Explanation.” You Tube, uploaded by AFAF, 18 Apr. 2017,

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