Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dinorah Martinez Tyson, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Committee Member

Nancy Romero-Daza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tara Deubel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lisa Staten, Ph.D.


advocacy, community health workers, health disparities, moral economy, photovoice, social determinants of health


While the concept of the community health worker (CHW) has existed since the mid-20th century, their function as a legitimate branch of the broader workforce in the United States has been tenuous. Their unique roles have the potential to reduce health disparities within marginalized communities, but stakeholder development of this position risks diminishing the crucial skills of these workers. Anthropological research on these workers has typically assessed them in the developing world, while public health research has focused primarily on their ability to impact specific health outcomes through quantitative studies. As a result of the limited and predominantly quantitative assessments of these workers, further research is needed to assess the lived realities of these workers at the grassroots level in the United States.

The overarching aim of this project was to document the lived experience of CHWs in Indiana. Additionally, this project assessed their participation in advocacy and the impact of policy development on these workers. A collaborative approach was utilized in this project that embedded the researcher within a CHW organization while also amplifying the voice of the research partners. The project drew on the theoretical lenses of moral economy, deservingness, structural vulnerability, and the “regimes of care” and “politics of care.” The results demonstrate that CHWs face a variety of challenges within the professional workforce but have significant impacts within their communities. These workers emphasize empowerment through advocacy and building client self-sufficiency. Their participation in

advocacy is split between impacts at the micro-, macro-, and professional-level. However, legislating the scope and responsibilities of this position by stakeholders unfamiliar with this model risks changing the foundation of the position itself. Steps to incorporate CHWs within the workforce must be collaborative and take into account their lived experience and input in order to allow them agency over the development of their position and to retain the most significant contributions.

The contributions of this project are severalfold. First, this project advances theoretical debates within anthropology related to moral economy, regimes of care, politics of care while also addressing the legitimacy of CHWs as a complimentary member of the health care workforce. The findings also illustrate how the political economy of Indiana shapes the moral economy of care within which CHWs operate. Lastly, the project produced applied findings for CHWs, employers, and stakeholders to consider in further development of this position.