Man Camp Anthropology: The Academic Study is Already Underway

Jimmy Vonk, a roustabout in the Bakken oil field, stands outside his RV and mudroom in Fox Run RV Park in Williston, North Dakota. Vonk's mudroom contains a living room area with a couch, television and video games, and a small bedroom.

ANDREW CULLEN / INSIDE ENERGY

Jimmy Vonk, a roustabout in the Bakken oil field, stands outside his RV and mudroom in Fox Run RV Park in Williston, North Dakota. Vonk\’s mudroom contains a living room area with a couch, television and video games, and a small bedroom.

One defining characteristic of an oil boom is that development – and the influx of workers – happens so fast that there’s never enough time to build adequate permanent housing.

Which many think is a good thing, because when oil prices come crashing down there is an exodus of workers and no need for all that relatively new permanent housing.

Two researchers from the University of North Dakota, Bill Caraher and Bret Webber, are giving academic appraisal to a form of temporary housing unique to the oil patch, the so-called “man camps.”

Inside Energy

Inside Energy

As part of their on-going North Dakota Man Camp Project, they visit dozens of RV parks across the Bakken oil play multiple times a year, interviewing residents and taking note of changes. They say this housing boom-bust cycle is just part of a long history of settlement on the northern Great Plains.

But on their early trips to the Bakken they were actually somewhat horrified by the living conditions in some of the man camps.

“My first reaction was people should not be having to live like this,” said Webber. “Especially because there’s a lot of money being generated by the activities that these folks are being involved in, and yet look at the quality of living.”

But they also came to be impressed by the ingenuity of some of the sites, and the real attempts at personalization. It isn’t yet anthropology, but the study of man camps is underway. Read the complete report here.

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