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Managing Liminal Time in the Fly-in Fly-out Work Camp

Publication Date: 01/07/2021

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Human Relations

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Sara Dorow

Sandrine Jean


Fly-in fly-out (FIFO) work camps are built and organized to ensure that long-distance rotational workers are fed, housed, and mobilized in sync with the pressing yet unpredictable rhythms of resource extraction. Positioned thus ‘betwixt and between’ the complex relations of work and life (Johnsen and Sørensen, 2015), the work camp is a generative yet hitherto neglected example of the temporal operations of permanent liminality (Bamber et al., 2017). But what does this mean for workers?

If camp does the liminal work of managing the temporal challenges of the resource-based mobility regime, how do FIFO workers experience and respond to its inevitable lived consequences? Drawing on rare qualitative fieldwork in Canada’s Athabasca Oil Sands, we explain the effects of camp time—disorientation, monotony, and entrapment—and examine the temporal tactics workers deploy to manage those effects, from embracing and disrupting internal camp routines to aligning and syncing with outside and future-oriented temporalities.

We argue that workers’ tactics make them ‘competent liminars’ (Borg and Söderlund, 2015) of camp time, which is, in turn, crucial to the latter’s disciplining function within the FIFO mobility regime. Our findings invite renewed attention to the temporal mediation accomplished by liminal people and places, especially in organizational contexts aimed at institutionally harnessing social time to productive imperatives.