Feminist, Queer, Crip
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. 258pp.
How might we imagine futures that hold space and possibility for those who communicate in ways we do not yet recognize as communication, let alone understand? Or futures that make room for diverse, unpredictable, and fundamentally unknowable experiences of pleasure?—Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip
In feminist, queer, crip, Alison Kafer explores disability in time, challenging the assumption that any desirable future would naturally be the future without disability and illness. Kafer illustrates that disability is cast outside of the realm of politics not only in popular culture and political movements in the contemporary United States, but also in many critical theories that treat gender, race, class, and sexuality as political. In contrast, Kafer argues that seeing disability as self-evidently negative is a political decision based on ableist thinking that wrongly assumes and constructs the inherent value of able-bodiedness and able-mindedness over disabled bodies and minds. Her book clearly shows that this assumption comes with a cost, leading to a [End Page 256] lack of public debate or forums for dissent, erasing the various voices that are crucial in building accessible futures. Furthermore, the depoliticization of disability leads to the failure to recognize discrimination against people with disabilities as a matter of justice. Kafer asserts, “To eliminate disability is to eliminate the possibility of discovering alternative ways of being in the world, to foreclose the possibility of recognizing and valuing our interdependence” (83). By highlighting the work of disability in feminist and queer theories, Kafer also challenges the persistent reliance on unexamined assumptions about disability in imagining social change.
The title of the book Feminist, Queer, Crip defies the singularity of a critical position that one inhabits. Yet each affiliation is separated by a comma, giving pauses to percolate feminist, queer, crip positions with distinctive histories and goals; yet it is made clear that these fields of inquiry do not indicate discrete and separate identities. The distinctiveness that might be assumed in feminist, queer, crip mutates to “feminist/queer/crip” (18), “queercrip” (14), “queer crip” (29), “feminist disability theory” (22), and “queer/feminist/disability (23) in other parts of the book, illustrating that the author’s analytical lens constantly shifts based on the site of her intervention. Moreover, Kafer explains that by using “feminist, queer, crip” as her methodology, she is actively seeking possibilities for alliance: “I’m calling attention to these shifting positions not to fix them in place, but to get them moving on the questions that face those of us committed to and invested in such positions” (17–18).
By building on Carrie Sandahl’s and Robert McRuer’s uses of “crip” to forward contestatory theories of disability that explore “the potential risks and exclusions of identity politics” (15), Kafer uses crip as a noun designating a person with radical/critical disability identity, an adjective that describes the way that disabled bodies and minds are actively embedded, and a verb that puts forth disability activism and radical politics of disability when approaching any given text and context. Crip is a fluid category that expands beyond physical impairments—implied in the word “cripple”—and aims to encompass a broad range of perspectives and practices of people who may or may not recognize themselves as crip. Together with crip, Kafer uses the notion of compulsory able-bodiedness paired with compulsory able-mindedness, not to highlight body and mind as dualist categories, but to maintain attention to various aspects of physical disability, sensory disability, and mental disability, while questioning such categorizations’ functions and limitations.
Another methodology she develops in the book is the political/relational model of disability. Kafer considers the “political/relational” model as a “friendly departure from the more common social model of disability” (7), which incorporates articulations of lived experiences of impairment alongside desires for medical treatment and cures. Kafer uses “relational” to illustrate how ideas of normalcy as well as “ableist attitudes and barriers” (8) inform relations [End Page 257] among individuals, showing how disability is privatized and depoliticized. Kafer longs for futures where there is a room for...