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Exploded, Broken, Endured: Resisting and Reorienting Normative Time through Feminist Crip Theory

Feminist Perspectives
Poppy Budworth (she/her)

Postgraduate Researcher at The University of Manchester

11 May 2023

Reflecting on my ongoing research with young people living with an ileostomy or colostomy in the UK, this piece explores normative time as a disciplinary force in people’s everyday lives. Linear, expectation-based temporalities are guided by non-disabled and heteronormative principles which reproduce exclusion and difference. As such, normative conceptualisations of time have the potential to disable and marginalise. Calling on work by Feminist Crip Theorists, I demonstrate how ‘crip time’ resists and reorientates time to ‘fit in’ with people’s complex bodies and lives. In this discussion, I speak to the participants’ experiences of crip time as exploded, broken, and endured. To close, I suggest a cripping of research time as part of the continued shift towards a feminist ethics of care.

Normative and Crip Time

From exam formats, working patterns, pedestrian crossings at traffic lights, to lifecourse ‘milestones’ such as getting married and having children, conceptualisations of time are dominated by heteronormative and able-bodied/minded narratives. This force often weighs heavily in queer and crip people’s lives, who may find themselves pushed out-of-place and out-of-time (for example, see James Todds’ Exhausting Temporalities).

Crip theory can be positioned as a response to the disciplinary power of normative time. Crip Theory brings together disability, crip, queer, and feminist activism to critique the production of ‘compulsory ablebodiedness’ under capitalism, making crip theory both political and social (see McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability). The purpose of crip theory is to spark a re-imagination of what time and space could look like, away from ‘ideal’ and ‘average’ bodies and minds.

Feminist, Queer, Crip is a must read, particularly for those interested in challenging engrained ideas about time and the future. Alison Kafer’s work establishes crip theory as intrinsically feminist, bringing together matters of care, justice, and solidarity. Kafer carefully unpicks the multiple threads which make up what is referred to as ‘crip time’; defining it as a reorientation of time, not just expanded but exploded’ (p.27). Crip time not only broadens ideas about ‘how long things take’, but also disrupts normative expectations around pace and productivity.

Crip imaginations of the future, also referred to as ‘crip futures’ (see Kafer), are far different from current curative ones where people seek to fix and eradicate sick and Disabled bodies. Instead, crip futures encapsulate the beauty and messiness that comes with difference, and appreciate the power of collectiveness, interdependence, and care. The process of cripping normative time starts with an intense reconsideration of what is possible. In this sense, cripping time is in itself, resistive practice.

‘Broken Time’

Centring the voices of Disabled and/or chronically ill people is vital when discussing the resistive power of crip time. In Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time, Ellen Samuels journeys through her own experiences of crip time. Each of the six ways are worthy of deeper exploration, but for this piece I focus on the framing of ‘crip time as broken time’. According to Samuels, living with impairment and illness ‘requires us to break in our bodies and minds to new rhythms, new patterns of thinking and feeling and moving through the world’ ( page).

Samuels points to the embodied nature of crip temporalities and how pain, fatigue, and illness reshapes understandings of time due to the exclusionary principles of dominant temporal structures. Crip time as broken and reoriented time is further encapsulated in Lauren White’s paper Like Clockwork, which applies crip theory to explore the complex temporalities of living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); demonstrating the (un)predictable daily rhythms of living with bowel related illness.

Research with young people living with an ostomy

In my ongoing research with young people living with an ileostomy or colostomy, participants shared intimate details about their everyday encounters, relationships, and practices. Simply put, ileostomy and colostomy surgery exteriorises a portion of the small or large intestine to divert poo outside of the body. The bowel on the exterior of the body is called an ostomy, also known as a stoma.

The participants’ personal experiences connect through themes of temporality, such as their hopes for the future; decisions about temporary vs permanent surgery; and their conceptualisations of ‘pre-stoma’ and ‘post-stoma’ life as distinct time-spaces. Throughout the research it became evident that young people living with, or who previously lived with, an ileostomy or colostomy were subject to the disciplinary power of normative time, with many talking about their relationship with time as exploded, broken, and endured.

For example, some participants found it difficult to meet the demands of full-time employment due to fluctuating symptoms; identifying as ‘time poor’ because of the number of hospital and toilet visits; as well as sharing how their stoma and diagnosis has, and will, (re)shape their reproductive futures. For example Sophie (pseudonyms used), who had previously undergone ‘reversal’ surgery but was waiting for her stoma to be reformed, explained:

‘I’m very time poor […] I’m having to take days off placement to go to a little doctor’s appointment. Like it’s hard to wait around for like a phone call and […] people don’t realise how much time that actually takes out of your life. Just running around to get a little injection or something… And it’s quite a lot of effort really, and when you’re already exhausted and not well to then have to go and do that– Sophie, Zoom Interview

Sophie’s reflections about lacking time to get everything done points to the disciplinary force of ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’ under neoliberal capitalism, which produces disability and difference.

Relating to non-disabled and heteronormative expectations about time and the lifecourse, Ashley shared the process of undergoing fertility preservation as part of her wider treatment-plan for rectal cancer. I asked Ashley if she was considering having children in the near future prior to her diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Ashley responded:

… It’s absolutely massive it was, and I am really grateful that they from the get go were like we need to, we need to think about this, I think that’s really important. But you know, you’re just told that you’ve got this life threatening illness but also if you survive it, life might look very different. And you know, it was a lot to take in. But I think in the moment, you just kind of, you just have to do it. […] It’s certainly a lot to go through. It wasn’t like I was planning to have children any time soon, so to all of a sudden be like I have to do something about this– Ashley, Zoom interview

Normative understandings of time and futures are incapable of meeting the needs of ill and disabled people. The subsequent feelings of being out-of-time that come with this significantly impacted participants’ everyday relationships and practices. Many described finding themselves living, working, and socialising on different time frames to their friends, family, and colleagues. When speaking about the impacts of living with Crohn’s disease, and how this shapes her ability to plan for social events, Ellie explains:

‘I’m planning on going to London with my sister on Saturday, and I’m like I hope I feel okay for that because it’s going to be like, probably my first big day since the hospital admission. And then like, planning stuff with my friends in a few months’ time, or like my sister and I are trying to plan a holiday for next year and stuff. […] For a ‘normal’ person, I always use ‘normal person’ [hands gesture inverted commas], people book holidays eighteen months in advance and, normally for money reasons which I understand, but […] to be able to think something awful would have to happen for you not to be able to go to that. Whereas for me it could be, I wasn’t well two months before but it’s still having a knock on effect– Ellie, Zoom Interview

In similar conversations about time and planning, Isla shared how living with an ileostomy has reoriented her morning routine:

‘If I’m going to go for a run I’ll always do it first thing in the morning now and that’s because I’m doing a bag change in the morning, because that’s when my stoma is least active. […] [When] I get up in the morning, I’ll get up sort of slightly earlier than I probably would, to allow myself to get a shower and then for when I’m doing my bag change to allow in case it’s going to be a difficult bag change. Because where I can usually do a bag change in a matter of minutes if it is being active it then obviously is more difficult and it takes longer to do. So there are times when it’s taken me sort of 15 minutes or so to do a bag change. And so, particularly if I’m getting up and going to work and things like that I kind of think like, I can’t be late to work so I’m going to get up earlier– Isla, Zoom interview

Isla’s experiences of adapting and re-imagining her morning routine post-surgery to account for bag changes and potential disruptions, demonstrates the need for flexible approaches to time which bend to meet the needs of the body. With this in mind, it is important that academic and research time bends with people's bodies, to meet their needs.

Cripping Research Time

Ensuring research spaces are designed in ways that are inclusive of marginalised, and sometimes hard to reach, people is a key part cripping research practice. Cripping research time through flexible methodological design is a small act of resistance that researchers can utilise to work against exclusionary normative temporalities. For example, I talked with participants about the temporal elements of their interview and diary contributions. Depending on their energy capacities, comfortabilities, care responsibilities, and so on, they could choose to engage flexibly with the research for as long as they felt appropriate and for periods of time that fit in with their everyday lives.

Asynchronous methods are one way of achieving time-flexible and care-oriented research practice. Asynchronous methods happen over-time, meaning participants decide to take part as and when they have the capacity and desire to do so. In my research, participants could contribute asynchronously in both the interview and diary formats. This care-full reorientation, or ‘cripping’, of research time which bends to meet participants’ bodies, minds, and lives demonstrates flexible practice as part of a continued shift towards feminist ethics and practices of care.

Time to Close

Existing as a chronically ill and/or Disabled person, and bending time to meet the body’s needs, demonstrates an active resistance against ableist temporal structures that cast people as other. Feminist crip theory disrupts disciplinary conceptualisations of time, imagining new and diverse ways of being in the world beyond compulsory able-bodiedness/mindedness and heteronormativity. Early findings from my research shows the complex and dynamic ways that young people living with an ostomy experience explosions, reorientations and endurances of time that go beyond normative temporalities.

Crip theory is intersectional in nature, it brings together feminist, disability, and queer experiences to re-imagine new, exciting, and caring ways of being in the world. With this in mind, crip theory reminds us that disability justice is an inherently feminist and collective issue.

Poppy Budworth, Author

About the author

Poppy Budworth (she/her) is a final year Postgraduate Researcher at The University of Manchester, undertaking doctoral research in Human Geography. Poppy’s research explores the everyday lives of young people living with an Ileostomy or Colostomy in the UK, focusing on daily encounters, relationships and identity-making practices.

To get in touch with Poppy, follow her on Twitter: @BudworthPoppy, or email

Feminist Perspectives

Feminist Perspectives is a blog created to publish research-based work – like academic research and think pieces – and art-based projects that use gender as a category of analysis or explore…

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