Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

John Jackson Jr.


An ethnographic film with supplementary written materials, this dissertation examines the lived experiences of reforestation workers in the United States and Canada. The dissertation is based on fieldwork conducted from November 2012 – February 2015, including time spent with three different reforestation crews, one comprised of Mexicans, one of Americans, and one of Canadians. It also relies on oral histories of former and company owners and other individuals who formed and grew the earliest interstate reforestation contracting companies, as well as archival research in the records of the South Eastern Forestry Contractors Alliance

My work uses liminality as a framework for understanding the lived experiences of these workers, and I have created the term “liminal labor” to describe jobs that require liminality of workers. The Canadian planters experience the job in a manner akin to a traditional rite of passage, a brief experience that defines them to their community and teaches them skills they will rely on throughout their adult life, but the American and Mexicans planters experience long-term liminality, an extended period that can last decades. For the American workers, most of whom are college educated, this liminality is their own choice. They could find other work, but they enjoy the freedom and lifestyle migrant work affords them. By contrast, for the Mexican H-2B workers, their long-term liminality is a product of necessity, not to enable a rootless lifestyle but to secure land, build houses, and support families in Mexico. The contrast of these two groups is instructive in showing how long-term liminality is neither inherently problematic nor laudable. Instead, its value is very much rooted in the subjectivity of the person living it.

This dissertation is primarily an ethnographic film, one that uses editing choices, text on screen, and narration to make an argument. The dissertation itself serves as an example of what I call “academic film,” a style of film that unites cinema’s sensorial and ethnographic potential with the theoretical and written tradition of academia.