Law in Contemporary Society

The Irony of Crip Theory and the Academy’s Inaccessibility

-- By AndreaRuedas - 14 June 2024

In “Coming Out Crip: Malibu is Burning”, John McRuer deconstructs the origins of crip theory and its manifestation in marginalized identities in specific cultural and geographical locations. Crip theory, as defined by McRuer, is “how bodies and disabilities have been conceived and materialized in multiple cultural locations, and how they might be understood and imaged as forms of resistance to cultural homogenization, it also has a lot to do with self-identified crips in the streets” (2006). Towards the end, McRuer outlines five of the principles of crip theory, of which I am interested in the following:

Demanding … that another world is possible, or that - put differently- an accessible world is possible. “Access,” however, needs to be understood, according to this principle, both very specifically and very broadly, locally, and globally. An accessible world on both levels would of necessity be constructed in opposition to neoliberalism and to …. “cultures of upward distribution”. (McRuer 2006)

While disability studies focus on the literal experiences and oppression against disabled bodies, queer studies is inclusive of other identities which can be disabling in a white, cis-heteronormative society; thus crip theory focuses on the narratives of those who possess one or many of multiple disabling identities, such as would be a “fat, black, queer woman” who is physically disabled and homeless (Schalk, 2013).However, if a principle of crip theory is to create a world where accessibility is always in mind and disability is normalized, contrary to current ableist thought and institutions, then the very medium for this theory, academic research and writing, is inaccessible in itself and runs opposite to its key principles. While reading the article, I struggled to understand its complex writing level and its expansive vocabulary; it made me question, if the purpose of intersectional writing and theory, such as crip or queer theory, is to demand change for those with the most marginalized identities, why does our writing spew of elitism and alienation towards those identities?

In the context of law school and the legal profession, McRuer’s accessibility lens really resonated with me because accessibility is the main reason I decided to become a lawyer. From an early age, I realized how legal and pseudo-legal institutions were inaccessible to members of my community. I vividly remember the daily indignities my family and I faced because we were low income immigrants. Social workers were rude and off-putting, unwilling to give more guidance on complex documents or processes. Utility agencies rarely had Spanish-speaking staff who could understand my parents’ need for an extension. And a landlord took advantage of our naivety and stole personal information resulting in a decade-long battle against identity fraud. Even though I believed we were equally deserving of prosperity and stability, I knew this would not easily happen in a place that treated us as less than. To combat the daily xenophobia and racism that plagued our basic interactions, I proudly took on the role of translator, advocate, and researcher. Whether translating and filling out forms at social services agencies, navigating and resolving identity fraud, or writing letters in support of a neighbor’s immigration case, I was always willing to use any of my skills, and learn those that I did not have, in order to support my community. The urgency of these situations was stressful because I knew the outcome would have a strong direct impact on people’s livelihoods. Instead of allowing the pressure to consume me, I chose to learn how to successfully navigate social, economic, and legal entities that play an important role in the daily lives of communities like my own. For this reason, I decided to go to law school - I believed I would be acting as a bridge between two worlds, that of the legal system and that of my family.

McRuer states “in general the term “crip” and the theorizing as to how that term might function have so far been put forward more by crip artists and activists, in multiple locations outside the academy” (2006). He admits that the actual practice of crip theory is often performed by those who are not crip theorists because of the disconnect between the academy and the communities it studies. Crip theorists write with the purpose to dismantle the stigma around disability, to encourage the reclamation of the label “crip”, but in the process of abiding to the academy’s elitist norms, they perpetuate inaccessibility to those who do not understand their writing, who have not shared similar educational backgrounds, and/or who do not care enough about their theory surrounding them because their lives and identities are on the line and writing about how we are crippled does not do enough to end the system crippling us. As I write this, I can’t help but wonder how do we make the legal field truly accessible to those who most need it when we continue to gatekeep what is supposed to be justice for all in a few highly unreachable spaces such as law schools and courts?


McRuer, Robert. “Coming out Crip: Malibu is Burning”. Crip theory: Cultural signs of queerness and disability. NYU Press, 2006.

Schalk, Sami. "Coming to claim crip: Disidentification with/in disability studies." Disability Studies Quarterly 33.2 (2013).


Webs Webs

r3 - 15 Jun 2024 - 06:12:50 - AndreaRuedas
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM