'I know this person. Why must I go to him?' Techniques of Authority Among Community Health Workers in Cape Town

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University of Cape Town

This paper forms part of a larger research project that explores how community health workers negotiate between the prescribed 'manual' for care and the realities of their field - re-appropriating prescriptions of public health policy through the micro-politics of everyday practice. Crucial to this question is how community health workers are able to disseminate the care manual authoritatively, despite their own authority being inherently unstable. This paper will discuss how careworkers negotiate authority in social and occupational contexts that regularly and powerfully undermine it. What tools, both discursive and otherwise, are at their disposal as they attempt to assert their authority as carers and measure up to those to whose authority they must submit? The paper shows that careworkers draw on a vast repertoire of discourses and performances in order to invoke, bargain for and appease authority. These series of improvisations are key to their survival on the job and necessitated by a care manual that is often impervious to social context.