Imagine Otherwise: Tala Khanmalek on Femme of Color Healing Justice

Imagine Otherwise: Tala Khanmalek on Femme of Color Healing Justice

January 25, 2017

Tala Khanmalek wearing a purple blazer


How have colonialism and empire contributed to modern-day science and medicine? How can work from women of color feminisms and healing justice movements inform how we practice wellness in our daily lives? Is there room for a holistic approach to productivity within academia?

In episode 29 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with guest Tala Khanmalek about how academics can incorporate healing justice and disability justice into academic workflows, how a holistic approach to graduate school enabled Tala to create social justice projects, and what a healing justice and disability justice-based world would look like.

Guest: Tala Khanmalek

Tala is a postdoctoral research associate in the American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies Programs at Princeton University.

She completed her PhD in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Science and Justice Research Center.

Tala’s work both within and outside of academia calls attention to how various forms of storytelling expose the intimate impacts of health disparities and their institutionalized roots in historical patterns of discrimination. She has founded, directed, and participated in a wide range of community-based projects in the Bay Area including the Cultural Conservancy, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Body Politic Think Tank, the Healing Clinic Collective, the Niroga Institute’s Integral Health Fellowship Program, and Womyn’s Circle.

She is also a blogger for SWANA Story reCollection, a digital archive of medicine stories from South West Asia and North Africa.

In addition to being a creative writer herself, Tala is a sailor and has been involved with projects that highlight the role of water in healing, disability, and social justice activism.

She is currently working on her first book manuscript, Living Laboratories: Remapping the Legacy of Experiments in American Empire, and establishing a community-based organization, Sailing for Social Justice, that further links the sea to social movements through sailing.

We chatted about

  • Tala’s forthcoming book project, Living Laboratories:Remapping the Legacy of Experiments in American Empire (3:17)
  • Healing justice as a framework to rethink health and unhealth  (06:48)
  • How academics can incorporate healing justice principles (11:38)
  • How Grad School Rockstars helped Tala create social justice projects (15:58)
  • Imagining otherwise (22:10)


Tala’s book manuscript Living Laboratories

In this book project I look at what I call a ‘living laboratory,’ which is a transnational site of state-sanctioned medical experimentation on populations that are deemed to harbor disease. I look at four different—though deeply conceptually and historically interconnected—living laboratory sites from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century.

The elusive definition of “healing justice”

One of the things I love about healing justice is it, to some extent, resists fixed definitions, and that parallels my experience as a chronically ill femme of color.

The dangerous productivity narrative within academia

There is a huge emphasis in academia on productivity. It’s so salient that even critical-POC [people of color] focused resources for academics emphasize productivity in an ableist way.

Incorporating healing justice principles in your daily practice

I’ve had to continually work on emptying my need for result, and instead focus on developing a flexible practice that allows me to be productive in a way that works for me.

The accessibility of Grad School Rockstars

What drew me to the rockstar program, and one of my favorite things about it, is that it was very accessible to me. It was something that I could actually commit to and do.

The unique offerings of the Grad School Rockstars community

I loved that it was diverse, interdisciplinary, and social-justice oriented. That’s something that I certainly wasn’t getting from the job market-related or dissertation writing-related offerings that my previous institution had available.

Imagining otherwise

I’m drawn to literature, and I try to uplift the ways in which folks are imagining otherwise through these creative genres. Yes, we can imagine other resolutions, other possibilities, and I think also we’re enacting them every day on a day-to-day basis, in small and large ways.

More from Tala

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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