Reflections on Law in Light of Everyday Life at L’Arche

Thomas McMorrow


Even though the notion of “disability” has received ongoing critical scrutiny and re-imagination within the field of disability studies, the concept of law has often been taken for granted. Although people with intellectual disabilities figure as subjects of legal discourse, seldom are they presented as participants in it. I argue that this owes to assumptions about law that fail to recognize the diversity of ways human beings exercise agency and experience normativity. I believe that research on the relationship between “law, religion, and disability” stands to benefit from imagining law as an interactional, symbolically plural human endeavour. I build on the theoretical framework of critical legal pluralism to highlight how law arises through interaction – informally and implicitly, as well as officially and explicitly. Drawing on fieldwork I carried out in L’Arche Montréal – a faith-based community serving people with intellectual disabilities – I illustrate the creative role that people with intellectual disabilities play in the construction of legal normativity. As important as it is to ask how law affects people with intellectual disabilities, is to ask about how their actions also shape law. When it comes to asking what law means for some of the most vulnerable members of society, it is not just a question of seeing how it may function either to prevent or to remedy harm. It is also a matter of seeing the ways in which law may facilitate (while being forged by) the cultivation of relationships and the liberation of human potential. 


Critical legal pluralism; L’Arche; intellectual disability; disability law; legal agency

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The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies is Published by the Canadian Disability Studies Association-Association Canadienne des Études sur l'Incapacité, and is hosted and supported by the University of Waterloo.

ISSN 1929-9192 Canadian Journal of Disability Studies (Online)