Why This? Why Now?
“The Medical Industrial Complex (MIC) is a for-profit system and network of thought leaders historically, and power brokers, culture brokers, and institutions that define what is a good body and is incredibly oppressive. The MIC includes...individual doctors, hospitals, durable medical suppliers, pharmaceutical industry, and the industries that keep those industries running…”
— PATTY BERNE, Artistic Director of Sins Invalid
Rather than center care, the Medical Industrial Complex is rooted in ideologies and systems of colonization, population control, slavery, and eugenics. Historically, state and corporate models of health care services for mental, developmental, cognitive, and physical disabilities, assisted living, substance use facilities, and prisons were all meant to keep what was seen as the “unhealthy” population isolated from what was considered the “healthy” population: the white, wealthy, able-bodied, elite, and Christian. People with disabilities, BIPOC, LGBTQTSI+, and institutionalized communities were considered disposable within this system, and used to generate profit for the Medical Industrial Complex through non-consensual medical testing and experimentation.
The Medical Industrial Complex timeline shows that in moments of crisis and vulnerability, the control and crisis management strategies of the state and corporate medical systems continue to be rooted in anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, xenophobia, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism. These systems continue to perpetuate ideas of who is “dangerous” and “expendable” and who is not. We know that the most important sites of resilience and care are family, community, and kin networks that are grounded in culture and memory, dignity and consent. These community care networks are often dismissed or minimized during these moments.
Our hope is that this timeline and the materials on this site will engage, create, and generate support to:
- Build community care-led strategies, where healers and health practitioners work with local communities to provide rapid response and long-term collective care strategies in acute (e.g. hospital emergency rooms, physical wounds, and trauma care, etc.), clinical, and communal settings;
- Build capacity for organizing interventions by, for, and with communities most impacted who are working at the intersections of: healing, healthcare systems, and social change in the forms of cultural policy and political campaigns that center issues of structural oppression and violence and their interventions;
- Support integrative care strategies that cross-pollinate and focus on cultural and community strategies for our collective wellbeing and survival. This includes both allopathic models and community traditions of care;
- Resist and transform assumptions of “healthy” and “whole” that limit our relationship to care as one monolithic type of body, as “pure,” as objects or products;
- Build understandings of healing that are not defined by “curative” or “cleansing” models of care, but instead support the transformation of individual and collective bodies, and understand the generational impact of trauma and social conditions on our psychic, spiritual, emotional, mental, and environmental well-being;
- Support community-led care strategies to meet the impacts of climate change and natural disasters, global warfare, racial capitalism, eugenics, and white supremacy;
- Understand the high risks and repressive conditions that healers/health practitioners face when they interrupt and intervene on the Medical Industrial Complex and when they refuse to be complicit with harms, abuses, and violence enacted in their acute, clinical, or community care settings. We recognize the risks healing/health practitioners take when they interrupt and challenge the healthcare systems in the interest of the safety and care of our communities.
This timeline is created in relationship to our Theory of Change, which centers our relationships to our lands, bodies, economies, and cultures — including spirituality — as a deep part of our collective care lineages. This timeline shows how communities are subjected to care based on a curative and controlling model that seeks to protect and preserve some bodies over others. You will see how some communities are pathologized and criminalized because of their race, class, immigrant or refugee status, gender, sexuality, disability, regional context, and/or survival economies. You will also see that there is always resistance, and there are always communities claiming their own care traditions, even in the face of immense violence, danger, surveillance, control, and exploitation.
We challenge the idea that all care is good care. We critique care that is designed to control and contain communities who are perceived to be disease-ridden, impure, and sinful. If we understand the healthcare system as rooted in colonization, eugenics, racial capitalism and slavery, then we see how categorization and sorting is inherent to how care has been applied; weeding out the “diseased,” the “different,” and the “dependent” to preserve the “fit” and wealthy. We also don’t believe that all traditions of care outside of the state and corporate medical systems are necessarily good care. Many “alternative” healing traditions are loaded with ableist, racist, and classist assumptions and have been co-opted, no longer rooted in lineage and still purporting to “fix” or “cure” our communities.
It’s important to examine the histories of hospitals with an understanding of how racism and ableism are embedded in their design, and recognize that many institutions, hospitals, prisons, and detention centers are all built on the basis of the same eugenic ideologies. We must also examine how the development of genetic technologies has led to debates about the privatization of human genetic materials, which is the same process of co-optation and commodification that has occurred with seeds and plants that are traded in the global economy. It will never be enough to talk about integrative care without understanding and transforming the violence that forcibly separates many people from their cultural practices of care, erasing these practices from our memories and bloodlines and then criminalizing them or selling them back to us.
As abolitionists, we know that our work is radical, which is a word that literally means to be focused at the root. It is vital that we pay attention to the legacy of more than five hundred years of violence and harm, of action and inaction, that continues to use care as a form of control.
We do this work at HHP because we are interested in seeing what gets in the way of our collective ability to transform care structures and practices that still can cause harm. This timeline looks at which kinds of care and cultural practices have been valued and which have been erased, and then asks what the consequences are.
We ask you to use this timeline as a blueprint to see what is possible based on abolitionist healing/health/communal care strategies. What if we could choose our practitioners based on their spiritual beliefs about healing before receiving care at a hospital? What would it mean to have all your lived experiences and identities valued as part of your care strategy? How many of our communities have been erased or invisibilized by care as it was weaponized to implement systems of structural oppression and violence? How can we depend on these systems that may have harmed us to hold our care?
We want to be clear that we are not anti-science; we are anti-scientific racism, anti-ableism, anti-eugenics, and anti-violence. We critique scientific practice when it operates outside of consent and denies individual or community agency. We critique healthcare that makes assumptions about whose body is “healthy”and whose is “diseased” based on old Christian ideas of purity, sin, and purification. We also critique care rooted in racial capitalist ideas of preserving the wellbeing of communities solely for the purpose of reproduction, particularly for the purpose of reproducing labor for the colonizer class, or wealthy elite, as was the case with chattel slavery. It is important to understand that not all practitioners uphold these systems. We work in solidarity with the many practicing scientists — from neurobiologists, to chemists, to botanists, to emergency doctors and nurses — who hold deep respect for healing, bodily autonomy, and individual and communal care.
This timeline (and all of the Healing Histories Project’s work) also seeks to lift up the many transformative forms of acute (e.g. hospital emergency rooms, physical wounds and trauma care, etc.), clinical, and community-based care that are changing these histories and building new possible futures. Healing Histories Project works in solidarity with the many earth/body/energy based healers, root workers, birth workers, researchers, and organizers working within, and outside, systems of institutional care who are committed to care that is rooted in dignity, consent, abolition, and connection.
This site could not have happened without a lot of support and care. First, we wanted to acknowledge and thank Anjali Taneja, Executive Director of Casa De Salud New Mexico and an emergency room doctor who was a co-founder of the Healing Histories Project along with Cara Page and Susan Raffo (see more on the origin story here.)
We wanted to thank the many other people who made this timeline possible, starting with Luce Lincoln and Rachel Cotterman. There would be no timeline without their vision, their attention to details, and their commitment to this work.
In addition to Luce and Rachel, this work has been held by a number of medical and Disability Justice reviewers, copy and content editors, visual editors and interns, designers and illustrators. We wanted to thank: tae min suh, Tanvi Avasthi, Alicia Peaker, Brianna Suslovic, Aarti Bhatt, Gila Berryman, Sangeetha Ravichandran, Lilliann Paine, kim thompson, Denise Davison, Tanya Smith Brice, LeahJo Carnine, Chu Ying He, Nilufahr Cooper, Defne Demirer, Alise Mackey, Sophie Kreitzburg, Sarah Kravinsky, Caroline Montgomery, Nicola Glenn-Douglas, and Sebastian Margaret and Ericka Dixon of the Disability Project. We also wanted to thank the many individuals who have sent suggestions for additions and changes to the timeline. We are grateful for everything shared that will make this tool stronger.
We thank Mab Segrest, Charity Hicks, and Shira Hassan, who we were in deep study with and we are always profoundly impacted by their vision and praxis.
For their resources and support, we give deep gratitude to the team at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Center for Digital Humanities at Barnard College, the Open Society Foundation Soros Equality Fellowship, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Elizabeth and Melissa Scott, Leo Farbman, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
There are many timelines out there that overlap with Stories of Care and Control. Some of them helped us immensely and we gained from the research and culling they had already completed. A few of those include: Health is a Human Right, the Eugenics Archive of Canada, Of Unsound Mind: a timeline on the history of psychiatry, Project South’s historical timeline on policing and resistance in the South, The history of anti-Black racism in medicine syllabus, A Different Asian-American timeline, History through a Native Lens, Compulsory Sterilization in all Fifty States, the timeline on eugenics and social movements co-created by the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, Project South, and Patty Berne at the Center for Genetics and Society. These are just a few of the sources that significantly impacted this timeline, and we are grateful for the work that many of you have done, and are doing, by combing through old archives and listening to the stories of survivors and resistors.