The Rise, Development, and Future Directions of Critical Race Theory

67 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012

See all articles by Athena Mutua

Athena Mutua

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: 2006


This essay tells the story of the rise, development and future directions of critical race theory and related scholarship. In telling the story, I suggest that critical race theory (CRT) rises, in part, as a challenge to the emergence of colorblind ideology in law, a major theme of the scholarship. I also contend that conflict, as a process of intellectual and institutional growth, marks the development of critical race theory and provides concrete and experiential examples of some of its key insights and themes. These conflicts are waged in various institutional settings over the structural and discursive meanings of race and the role that race plays in society, an argument made in part, by Kimberle Crenshaw, and a story drawn in parts from her, Stephanie Phillips, and Cheryl Harris. Conflict within CRT in turn, to some extent, spurs the development of CRT-related scholarship, such as Asian American Legal Scholarship, Critical Race Feminism and specifically Latino and Latina Critical Schools (LatCrit). Though this related scholarship could be seen as fragmenting the CRT movement, I suggest, focusing primarily on LatCrit, that it has actually deepened it. However, a significant area that CRT has not adequately addressed is the issue of class and its relationship to race and other subordinating structures. I examine reasons why this is the case even though CRT scholars have repeatedly called for analyses of the relationship between race and class and propose critical class analyses or classcrits as a necessary future direction of CRT and related scholarship.

Parts One through Four of this article present a narrative of the origins and development of Critical Race Theory. Part One provides an overview of CRT and related scholarship and some of its basic themes. Part Two discusses CRT's intellectual antecedents. Part Three discusses a series of four sets of conflicts that I suggest have contributed to its intellectual content and institutional development, including one that partly led to the establishment of LatCrit. Part Four then lays out CRT's basic tenets and methodological fingerprints.

Part Five builds upon the context developed in the first four sections of the paper and applies critical theory insights and methods to an historical analysis of law and race. Part Six, summarizes a number of the key insights of related CRT scholarship with a particular focus on LatCrit. Finally, Part Seven takes up and explores an important refrain and critique of CRT: that it more systematically examine the relationship between class and race. I conclude that CRT found a classcrits forum as a future direction.

Keywords: Supreme Court, constitutional law, colorblindness, indeterminancy, critical race theory, LatCrit, multidimensionality, intersectionality, antisubordination, feminism

Suggested Citation

Mutua, Athena, The Rise, Development, and Future Directions of Critical Race Theory (2006). Denver University Law Review, Vol. 82, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Athena Mutua (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States

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