Queerness & Disability

A review by Margaret Spelman:

Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability examines contemporary culture, yet its argument is rooted in the nineteenth century.  During that century, the notion of “normal” came to dominate medical and social discourses, and the effects of this shift are still felt today.  Lennard J. Davis conducted an extensive study of the rise of “normal,” showing that while it was initially a mathematical (statistical) term, in the 1700s it began to denote an idealized bourgeois position.  Davis explains:

The average man, the man in the middle, becomes the exemplar of the middle way of life … [an ideology that] saw the bourgeoisie as rationally placed in the mean position in the great order of things.  This ideology can be seen as developing the kind of science that would then justify the notion of a norm.  With such thinking, the average then becomes paradoxically a kind of ideal, a position devoutly to be wished.(1)

Davis’ analysis is worth quoting at length here because it provides the link between normality and class that undergirds McRuer’s book.  Although its subtitle identifies the work’s focus as “cultural signs of queerness and disability,” Crip Theory is at heart a critique of neoliberal and capitalist ideologies which construct middle-class, white, straight, and able-bodied as positions devoutly to be wished.  Its title could make it seem a “niche” study, but Crip Theory is in fact an expansive argument showing that every institutional context, local and global, relies on queerness and disability to support the ways it distributes power and access.  Often oppressive, these institutions are also sites where dissent breaks out — or, to use McRuer’s phrase, where “crip reality keeps on turning” (63).

Inversion Therapy” by Margaret Spelman, a review of Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability


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