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  • CripistemologiesIntroduction
  • Merri Lisa Johnson (bio) and Robert McRuer (bio)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any movement intent on changing the world must be in search of a good theory. Of course, opening our introduction to these special issues with such a sweeping assertion is, at best, grandiose and overblown (dreams of changing the world in our moment perhaps border on madness) and, at worst, saturated with an unfashionably cruel optimism in which “we are really talking about a cluster of promises we want someone or something to make to us and make possible for us” (Berlant 93). As we flesh out in this introduction, then, what a theory grounded in cripistemology might look like or how it might work, we dutifully complain, gripe, and moan, even as we search (compulsively, and with ambivalence) for glimmers of relief. Well-versed in contemporary disability theory and queer theory, and intimately acquainted with negativity, failure, hopelessness, and passivity, we know that it does not always get better, and when it does, there is a cost attached.1 Pain rears its sometimes inarticulate, sometimes articulate head here. As Lisa wrote to Robert from an urgent care waiting room as we completed this introduction, “the willful crip rejoinder to ‘it gets better’ is ‘it’s always something.’”

Cripistemology of the Closet

“It’s always something” is arguably a Southernism, a bit like “I feels it in my bones” or “Lord, girl, there’s only two or three things I know for sure.”2 And in fact—even if a major international conference on cripistemologies [End Page 127] was held at New York University in April 2013—cripistemology’s origins are literally non-metropolitan (see Fig. 1). We narrate the term’s emergence below to locate it in the backwoods and branch campuses of disability and queer theory. By way of these deviations from the metropole, we will route cripistemology through a reconsideration of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s now-classic Epistemology of the Closet in order to bind cripistemology to crisis and pivot these two special issues of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies away from certain dominant ways of knowing disability in our moment.

Neoliberal disability epistemologies are highly lucrative—this much we know for sure. Disability identity is now part of capitalism’s array of target markets; a “crip economy” akin to the globalized queer pink economy is emergent (materializing out-and-proud disabled consumers, in and out of the academy), even if crip dollars, pounds, and euros are not yet as thoroughly in circulation as pink dollars, pounds, and euros. What we might term the debility dollar, however, is one of the most sought-after currencies in the world; in the United States alone, money spent on actual or seeming impairments represents 17.6 percent of the GDP. Hypostasized beneath neoliberalism, a global psychopharmaceutical industry compels targeted consumers to know about and from a space of impairment: “Ask your doctor,” Big Pharma instructs the consumer, “if Cymbalta is right for you.” We argue that all too many ways of knowing disability are beholden to the debility or crip dollar, caught up in economies that actively closet what Lisa Duggan (in the roundtable that follows this introduction) identifies as crip forms of “intellectual, political, and affective creativity.” But the closeting of crip creativity can never be complete, as the history of crip activism, performance art, and theory richly demonstrate, and as the term’s origin story also illustrates.

It all began on the Piedmont. Lisa coined the term in the spring of 2010, coiling and uncoiling this bit of wordplay on the tongue as a way to process and contain the not entirely comfortable mental churning that followed an annual queer studies event called “Bodies of Knowledge,” held at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Robert had given a keynote on “Disability Nationalism in Crip Times,” addressing impairment in relation to the US military internment camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (or, more properly, representations of that camp), while also providing an intellectual history of transnational queer/crip theory. The piece concluded that the geopolitics of disability in the current world order call for analyses...


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pp. 127-147
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