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Critical Race Theory - CONTRIBUTIONS OF CRT

social analysis legal critique

Critical race theory (CRT) is a scholarly and politically committed movement that takes as its starting point the centrality of race in American history and social life. CRT scholars focus on contemporary economic and political arrangements as well as the historic distribution of public and private resources. CRT began as an attempt to identify the ways in which race had either been ignored or minimized in the study of law and legal institutions, and to point out the consequences of that ignorance.

Fundamental to the scholarly inquiries that animate CRT is the idea that race is a socially constructed category that is deeply implicated in the use and circulation of power in society. Thus its two principal objects of analysis are race and power. CRT represents a body of work created primarily, but not exclusively, by legal scholars of color. It has generated related inquiries in the social sciences and humanities, especially history, sociology, anthropology, and education. Because it takes reflective engagement as a fundamental feature of its methodology, CRT sees the knowledge generated by community-based practices as an essential source for the questions that scholars need to ask. Methodologically, this has produced a narrative form of scholarship that uses “storytelling” as a concrete expression of the commitment to reflective engagement. The importance of storytelling is located in its narrative methodology for construing reality, making sense of that reality, and then translating that meaning, through the use of stories to invoke the voices of an excluded community.


Building on these elements, critical race theorists focused on the role of law in changing the meaning of social action. This transformation was viewed as central to the project of material transformation and, perhaps more importantly, to the possibility of imagining the social innovation that would be necessary to finally confront the ways in which race continues to affect the way American social institutions function and how that stunts the life chances of people of color. The focus on both law and culture was in the service of understanding the ways that power was expressed in support of the existing distribution of social and material goods. Thus, while CRT was engaged in a thoroughgoing critique of legal doctrine, it was also engaged in a critique of the ways in which the ideology contained in that doctrine was expressed through social life.

Another important contribution was CRT’s engagement with feminism. By adopting a consciousness-raising methodology and reflective practice from the feminist movement, CRT integrated storytelling into the process of understanding the community that drives the movement. This commitment to understanding the lived experience of communities of color meant that CRT imagined itself speaking to many audiences. The rootedness of the narrative methodology was not just an analytic technique but also an intellectual expression of a political commitment. Perhaps just as importantly it introduced a critique and sustained debate about the nature and content of essentialism (the idea that there are fixed and irreducible traits that define individual members of a social group) as a limiting factor in social analysis. While CRT had introduced a critique of essentialism in the attack on both nationalism and color blindness, the engagement with feminism was an important moment in the evolution of CRT scholarship and produced the idea of using strategic essentialism as a potentially politically expedient stance. Simultaneously, CRT scholars challenged the essentialism of a feminist discourse that uncritically assumed the category “women” was white and middle class. This critique led to the development within the law of intersectional analysis, an approach most closely associated with the work of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Intersectional analysis is premised on the claim that forms of social oppression do not act independently of one another, but must be understood from the points at which they modify one another. The social effect of these compounded oppressions require a critical rethinking of any particular one. Intersectionality necessarily implies, for example, that sexism is modified and has different expressions depending upon the race, class position, or sexual orientation of the women or men to whom that analysis is applied.

CRT also launched a sustained critique of black/white dichotomy in the understanding of race in modern American life. By incorporating intersectional analysis in its engagement with feminism, CRT went further by suggesting that the crosscutting impact of race required a thick understanding of local expression of racial hierarchies. While the legal doctrine took as its cardinal example the experience of African Americans, Latino and Asian participants in CRT demonstrated the partiality of a black-dominated analysis. Yet, to confront the disaggregating of communities of color as a strategy for weakening the critique of racism, CRT reformulated the division not along a white/nonwhite axis, but along a black/nonblack axis in order to put the political nature of racial categories in stark relief and to suggest the oppositional nature of the CRT project.

The latest and perhaps most vital expression of the CRT project is found in the emergence of LatCrit (Latina/o critical theory). LatCrit is a self-conscious amalgam that has come to be called “outsider jurisprudence” or an outsider theory of law. LatCrit has taken the activist bent of CRT and created a space for critical legal studies, feminist legal theory, critical race theory, critical race feminism, Asian-American legal scholarship, and queer theory to engage with one another.

Crogman, William H.(1841–1931) - Educator, lecturer, college president, Chronology [next] [back] Critical Issues in Global Navigation Satellite Systems - THE GLOBAL GROWTH OF GNSS, THE MECHANICS OF GNSS, Space Segment, Control Segment, User Segment

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