This timeline represents over ten years of research and thought and has been curated through the work of community historians, archivists and researchers, health and healing practitioners, community organizers, and designers rooted in abolition. We offer this in the service of our collective liberation, healing, and transformation. On our website, you can read more about the Healing Histories Project and more about the people who created this timeline. And stay tuned for a new page coming soon about our collaborative methodology and process!
We are creating this work as a part of a Healing Justice framework. Healing Justice (conceived by Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective in 2006) seeks to intervene in generational trauma from colonization, structural oppression, and violence while building collective power towards resistance. A Healing Justice framework reminds us that we begin by understanding the full context and conditions of a local place, an incident of abuse, or an institution causing harm. We understand the histories that shaped the present moment and then work to shift those histories by building awareness and strategies for change. Our Theory of Change talks more about how we understand this.
Themes of the Timeline
This timeline focuses on five different themes that we see forming over the more than five hundred years of history, as well as the years leading up to the colonization of this land, Turtle Island. They are:
- The Before
- Separation of Care from Community
- Colonization, Eugenics, and the Evolution of Disease and Medicine
- The Carceral State
- Strategies of Movements and Resistance
You can tell the story of the emergence of the Medical Industrial Complex in whatever way makes sense for you. This is the framework that we chose to show how change can ladder and weave together, resulting in our current experience of the Medical Industrial Complex and the legacies of care traditions that have survived despite it.
The Before refers to the time before the problems and the violence of the MIC existed. There is no single “Before,” as it exists differently from culture to culture and place to place. For some communities, particularly Indigenous communities who are fighting to stay in relationship to their traditional lands and cultures, the Before is still the now.
The Before refers to a time when care traditions still remained in right relationship with the land (meaning all living beings), with our bodies, and with our labor, so that work existed for the collective good and was not destructive to land and body. It was a time when spirit and culture were seen as inseparable, made meaning out of our sense of well-being, and were not commodified. The Before also includes times throughout history and the present when communities have organized around their collective strength rather than the specific wellness of isolated individual members. The “Before” remembers that all life is connected and interdependent, and that bodies that are hurting and needing care today contain the elements of both ancestors and descendants to come.
The Separation of Care from Community
For the Medical Industrial Complex to emerge, the concept of care and well-being had to become individualized: separated from the cultural ways that communities understand their collective well-being. We are not romanticizing the cultural ways of the Before. We know that we have always been people who hurt other people. This is about a shift from collective practice towards individualized practice. At some point, this separation of care from community meant a disruption of collective autonomy, and the evolution of a new cultural way of being. This can happen as a result of significant collective shock to a community, whether through colonization, forced displacement and enslavement, significant natural disasters, or devastating epidemics. It also happens when strategies of care become attached to a specific religious system that rewards “believers” and punishes or persecutes “non-believers.” This separation of care from community happens when care becomes transactional, and when healthcare strategies are built for economic profitability rather than being focused on prevention, relationship, healing, and support. Once care is separated from a collective context, it becomes much easier to establish strategies that isolate some individuals from the rest of the community, “for their own good,” or to “protect” or “preserve” the rest of the society.
Colonization, Eugenics, and the Evolution of Disease and Medicine
While the separation of care from a collective context can happen for many different reasons, it is the absolute intention of colonization to violently destabilize communities so that they can be more easily controlled. This destabilization strengthens the ability of the colonizing force to steal, co-opt, and extract resources to build its wealth. This process of colonization, and the resultant building of empire, sets up patterns that determine which populations, which bodies, which communities have access to land, labor, and autonomy — and which people are exploited. For colonization to be fully successful, the colonizing forces must take away a people’s language, cultural and spiritual practices, and destroy the land they know best. This destruction depends on the colonizing forces asserting the idea that some ways of being are “good” and others are “bad.” It’s this separation of the “good” from the “bad,” and the “dangerous” from the “innocent,” that sets up the conditions for eugenic practices (the removal of the genetic materials of those who are seen as bad, dependent, or dangerous to society.) This also informs the evolution of a relationship between disease and medicine used to separate and pathologize certain communities. Communities that are pathologized include: disabled, queer and trans, immigrant and refugee, People of Color, elders and youth, incarcerated, and institutionalized communities.
The Carceral State
Once care has been separated from a community through colonization--and some people and places have been identified as dangerous and in need of being segregated while others are seen as innocent and in need of protection--the next step is to establish institutions that will maintain those belief systems and strategies of control.
“Carceral,” means: in an enclosed space. The separation and isolation of carceral systems are not just ideologies but form the basis for the establishment of physical structures for surveillance and control. This includes the Prison Industrial Complex (detention centers and prisons) as well as some psychiatric institutions and hospitals. The result of this system is that often the only access people have to treatment, or intensive care, is within institutions that are disconnected from their communities and cultures.
Strategies of Movements and Resistance
There is always resistance, from the smallest assertion of life to movements that end forms of oppression. Movement strategies and resistance include cultural or collective ways of attending to each other, of remembering practices and medicines from before the times of violence. These strategies of resistance include healthcare workers and healing practitioners fighting on behalf of those most impacted by natural disasters, poverty, and oppression. The most easily accessible history is written by those who control forms of social messaging, from printing presses to mainstream digital media. Most stories of resistance are not recorded, although they are often held by community members who share them with each other. This is why archiving oral histories (recorded by those with shared experience), protecting and honoring cultural teachings, seed-saving, and building cross-generational relationships are all vital parts of movements for transformation. This timeline includes multiple sites of practice where resistance and remembering come together to create possibilities beyond the violence of state control and isolation.