Community Agents

De Dicionário de Favelas Marielle Franco

Translated by: Tatiane da Penha Schneider

Review: André Rezende Broseghini and Junia Mattos Zaidan


Author: Marcella Carvalho

Community agents are the social workers responsible for community participation in social policies. “Groundwork”, “community work”, and “social work” compose the lexicum of “communitarian participation” and public policies democratization, but they are not synonymous terms. From political fight tactics to work methodology, the meaning of “community work” was the object of successive political tensions. The unity of these conflicts around certain issues makes it possible to divide the history of community agents into three periods.

The first was during the military dictatorship, divided by state developmentalism, on one side and  left-wing political organizations, on the otherThis period was articulated around the discussion about the role of collective efforts: “groundwork” for political organization or for the exploitation of urban workers? The second was the period of political re-democratization and the subsequent institutional reorganization of the State. The creation of the Municipal Secretariat of Social Development was an important institutional landmark for changing Sate action from (a) the policy of evictions and removals to housing complexes to (b) the policy of favela urbanization. During this period, the expansion of services understood as “community work” brought women to the core of urban services provision, such as in daycare and healthcare centers. The unanticipated consequence of public investment in “community work” was the contestation of the meaning of “work”. Men started to demand remuneration for carrying out the constructions and women for the recognition of the community agents category. The third period was the one of consolidation of “social work” as a labor market. The 1990s and 2000s witnessed the growth of funds allocated to urban policy and the incorporation of contractors in the field of urbanization and sanitation in favelas. The hiring of community agents expanded to mediate the relationship between the State and favelas’ residents. That unleashed disputes around the forms of labor provision and of organization of the labor relations between cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and social enterprises. The empirical material which supports the elaboration of the present article is basically composed of life story interviews with social workers, architects and other public servants, leaders of social movements, and community agents, with a few references to documents from archives that still exist. The present article  seeks to compile the knowledge produced so far about these central figures in urban policies and, thus, remove them from the invisibility to which they were relegated in Rio de Janeiro’s urban history. In this sense, it should be noted, in advance, that it is open to re-elaboration as more information about “social work” emerges from other researchers.

Community Health Agent


Author: Flávia Garofalo Cavalcanti

In Brazil, the community health agent is institutionalized by the Programa de Saúde da Família [Family Healthcare Program] through the Ministry of Health. Unlike the other family healthcare team members, the community health agent (ACS) does not have a degree in the medical field, but stands out for being a resident of the team's area of activity. Their work is considered an extension of health services within the chosen community. Among the ACS’s main duties are: the expertise/knowledge of the territory in which they work; the registration and monitoring of families; home visits; actions of health promotion and surveillance (active search); attention and encouragement to community claims; and integration between popular knowledge and technical knowledge.

Mediation, therefore, is a keyword in the ACS’s universe of operation. This mediation takes place in their daily lives, while walking the streets, visiting families, going to and from the Health Clinic, talking to residents, counseling and being counseled - all in all, interacting with the collectivity that is their own community. It is then possible to perceive their double everyday condition: they are present both in the social and physical spaces. And from the moment they wear their vest, they become an agent, that is, one who performs duties - in this case in favor of healthcare and/or with the approval of healthcare. The fact that the health agent walks the streets, greets people, talks, visits houses, listens to reports, in other words, knows the public dynamics (in terms of  the open space of the streets) as well as the private dynamics (the internal environment of the house and its residents). thus crossing other domains beyond the health issue: extend their mediation role to different spheres of the organization of social life. Spread across different spaces in the city, health agents are present mainly in popular territories, including favelas. Despite their recognized role in mediating between the community and health services, or between different types of knowledge (popular and technical), it is clear that these agents go beyond their institutional role. The actions these agents carry out place them as “users of the city”, as those who live and utilize services - actions aimed at improving their living conditions in the search for greater coverage of public and private facilities. In the ambiguity between their condition as  residents and as  'public' agents lies the richness of their performance, as far as these elements provide the realization of an expanded urban-related concept of health, one that has to do with the social dynamics of the community.