Disability Studies Quarterly
Fall 2006, Volume 26, No. 4
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


McRuer, Robert. (2006). Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. NY: New York University Press. 6x9. 14 photographs. 281 pages. Paperback 13:978-0-8147-5712-3. $22.

Reviewed by C. Bríd Nicholson, Kean University

Robert McRuer's Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, is a wonderful combination of humor, theory, intellectual, and personal insights. McRuer combines the realms of popular culture, and in particular reality shows, with the philosophical maneuvering of Derrida, Sedgwick, and other theorists. The result is a highly accessible and perceptive book, one which I am sure will find itself useful in other studies.

Crip Theory is divided into five chapters, going from the personal to the political (Chapter 1, "Coming Out Crip: Malibu is Burning"), to the global (Chapter 2, "Capitalism and Disabled Identity), to the notion of limits on identity (Chapter 3, "Noncompliance: The Transformation, Gary Fisher, and the Limits of Rehabilitation"), to cultural, and institutional places of perceived limitations, (Chapter 4, "Composing Queerness and Disability: The Corporate University and Alternative Corporealities"), to the power of the visuals in Chapter 5's "Crip Eye for the Normate Guy: Queer Theory, Bob Flanagan, and the Disciplining of Disability Studies."

What is important about this study is McRuer's integration of theory and praxis. He examines the personal experience with the global political agenda and scholarly research with practicality as he explains the need for studying queer and disability history. Expansion of Disability Studies will, he hopes, end in a welcoming, perhaps even a desiring, of disability.

To reach this point, McRuer begins his study by noting the Foucaultian idea that heterosexuality has "passed as universal love and intimacy" (p. 1); queer studies has competed with the impossible presumption of an invisible but accepted reality. Disability Studies, he comments, have much in common with queer theory as few have noticed the connection between "heterosexuality and able-bodied identity"(p. 1). This is vital according to McRuer, as able-bodiedness, even more than heterosexuality, is considered "the natural order of things" (p. 1). The result is a world which has straight, able—bodied people as the norm. McRuer dissects this world in order to show how both queer studies and Disability Studies have in fact questioned this world, presented images that subvert the norm, and even gone so far as to re-invent, and propose identities which make "access to other worlds and futures" possible (p. 208).

To demonstrate the change occurring to this order McRuer notes the levels of visibility of the disabled population economically, culturally, and politically–not on any obvious quantitative political platform but in the form of popular culture such as movies and television shows. The purpose of Crip Theory for McRuer is about "imaging bodies and desires otherwise," of going beyond and "transforming" (32) particularly on the global level.

Identity is a vital part of this study, as value of an individual becomes vital to a community. Value of a person initially is seen by the person's ability to do, to perform and really this is done in an able-bodied invisible way. Change occurs when the whole notion of rehabilitation is questioned and rejected. Rehabilitation has as its object, to make whole (again, or for the first time), either way for the person to fit in, to be "invisible." Rejection of rehabilitation, the decision to have difference as part of identity, is for McRuer a "coming out" as not only do individuals refuse to fit in, but society is then forced to rethink its version of value in the person. This is then not only an obvious rejection of "compulsory able-bodiedness" (p. 8) but a valuing of perceived disability.

This re-thinking, re-identification of value then is shown not through the individual changing but through the globalization of disability issues. While there are certain dangers attached to this world approach (McRuer prefers the term "spectre"), McRuer sees the need for a new "postidentity politics," which "acknowledges the complex and contradictory histories of our various movements, drawing on and learning from those histories rather than transcending them" (p. 202).

McRuer's Crip Theory is a valuable tool for the classroom. His chapter on college writing classes should prove valuable for the English department, while other humanities disciplines can benefit from its widening approach to all subjects. For the individual, the book is an important addition to one's education, adding new approaches to television/movie viewing, and political activism. Ultimately this is a valuable and well-written study.

Copyright (c) 2006 C. Bríd Nicholson

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