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

  • Thomas McMorrow Assistant Professor of Legal Studies University of Ontario Institute of Technology
Keywords: Critical legal pluralism, L’Arche, intellectual disability, disability law, legal agency


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. 

Author Biography

Thomas McMorrow, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Thomas McMorrow is an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, where he teaches, among other courses, Family Law, Public Law, Philosophy of Law, and Human Rights Mediation. He obtained his LLB in Law & French at Trinity College Dublin, and his LLM and DCL degrees at McGill University. His interest in legal theory in general, and legal pluralist theory in particular, has informed his studies of property law regimes within Indigenous communities, education law in secondary schools, theory and practice in legal education, and everyday life in L’Arche, a community serving persons with intellectual disabilities. His work has appeared in several edited collections, as well as the Canadian Legal Education Annual Review, the Education and Law Journal, the Alberta Law Review, and the European Journal of Legal Studies.