Tipping and the 'New Servants'
: labour, gender, and subjectivity in the global political economy of neoliberalism

  • Jacqueline A Ross

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This dissertation presents an ethnographic analysis of tipping in the restaurant sector of The Hamptons of Long Island, New York. Taking the form of a full participant insider ethnography, the research is based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with co-workers and in-role observations. The research took place in a small restaurant (under fifty employees) that served casual and moderately priced food and drink. The ethnographic research offers access to the processes of subjectivity formation, as well as to the economic relations produced by tipping. Tipping is a technique of labour control particularly suited to the neoliberal political economy. In this study neoliberalism is understood as a series of political, economic, and ideological practices that centre around individual and entrepreneurial freedoms, pure market logic, and consumerism. Those economic relations produce governable subjectivities for capital by making workers complicit in their own domination. This is done through a process of mobilization at the site of the server, whereby servers: 1) internalize a neoliberal logic and self-commodify; 2) are incentivized by the potential of working for tips; and 3) are informalized and individualized within their work and wage relations. Tipped workers are subject to a sub-minimum wage, which at the federal level is as low as $2.13 per hour. Some workers benefit from the tipped-wage system more than others, and those nearer to the top maintain the inequality and exploitation of this system as a whole. Tipping is both a post-Fordist technology that relieves capitalist companies from paying wages in full, and a neo-feudal master/servant relation of unequal dignity. That contradiction forces workers into an asymmetric relation outside of market neutrality. Tipping reinforces the hierarchies of class, gender, and race, and constructs an embodied labour that requires a sexualised selling of the self.
Date of Award20 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorJulia N O'Connell Davidson (Supervisor) & Terrell F Carver (Supervisor)


  • Restaurant Industry
  • Commodification
  • Feudal Relations
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Affectivity
  • Service Work
  • Gift Economy
  • Hierarchy
  • Labour Process Theory
  • Critical Theory
  • Emotional Labour
  • Body Work
  • Flexible Labour
  • Manufactured Consent
  • Insider Ethnography
  • Critical Ethnography
  • Extended Case Method
  • In-depth Interviews
  • Tipped Minimum Wage
  • Sub Minimum Wage
  • Waitress
  • Seasonal Work
  • Special Monies
  • Experience
  • Feminized Labour
  • Hegemony
  • Consent
  • Embodied Labour
  • Sexuality
  • Customer Interaction
  • Capitalism
  • Labour Studies
  • Social Theory
  • Political Sociology
  • Precarity
  • Sociology of Work

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