The American Diner Waitress: An autoethnographic study of the icon

Hasbrouck, Heidi Liane. 2018. The American Diner Waitress: An autoethnographic study of the icon. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This practice-based thesis explores the relationship between the iconography of the American diner waitress and the labour of diner waitresses. My research is grounded in ethnographic fieldwork, whereby I worked as a diner waitress and conducted in-depth interviews with my co-workers in New Jersey. I use autoethnography and experimental documentary filmmaking as methodological tools to (re)produce both the iconography and the labour of the American diner waitress. Through this I reveal the feedback loop that exists between the iconography and narrative associated with the affective labour of waitressing. As a feminist artist, activist and cultural theorist, I affect the icon through exposing its power to find potential points of intervention that could improve waitresses’ labour conditions.

I ground my ethnographic fieldwork and practice in a historiography of American waitressing and feminine labour. I analyse the extraction of the icon and what the image is, to understand the relationship between the icon and waitresses’ labour. To do this I draw from feminist theory including: feminist Marxism, affect theory, cultural theory, and feminist historiography. I also utilize semiotic analysis as a tool for further unpacking the image and narrative. My methodology chapter provides the context of my practice and how it intersects and informs my theoretical output. I look to autoethnography, affective immersion, and documentary film practice to do this. All of this sets the context for my film, Diner Wars, and the final two chapters, where I present my autoethnographic experiences as a diner waitress. I ask: how do the material conditions I experienced in my fieldwork, such as tipping and managerial control, relate to the iconography of diner waitressing? How do waitresses engender ideas of femininity such as sacrifice and ‘cattiness’ and how does this play out in our performance as waitresses and our (re)production of the icon?

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Feminist theory, labour theory, affect theory, documentary, visual methods, waitress, American studies, cultural studies, autoethnography, visual methods, performance lecture

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 November 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

20 Mar 2019 16:45

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:14


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