In spite of institution : community engagement and the lived experiences of Kearl oil sands workers in Northern Alberta
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SubjectTotal institutions; ethnography; remoteness; oil sands; workplace communities; burn out; engagement; organizational culture
Prison or paradise is a matter of perspective; within the walls of a highly institutionalized work camp in northern Alberta, it is one that employees are constantly negotiating, as the boundaries that typically separate areas of work, sleep, play and life blur. By adopting an interactionist perspective, existing theories of organizational structure and human interaction within the framework of a total institution can be analyzed and expanded. As growing demand for these specialized work camps grows in the region, employers and workers alike can benefit from integrating this level of social interaction into both camp amenities and daily routine. The very framework that promotes compliance, order and security for the stability of the institution also, simultaneously, limits and controls the freedom and autonomy of those within it, leading to disengagement and burnout. However, ethnographic interviews conducted at the Kearl site have revealed that many workers have elected to cope with the stress of institutionalized living through an alternative method: by connecting with their fellow co-workers through friendship and choosing community engagement over dissociation.
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