In Remembrance of Robin Leidner, Ph.D.

Robin Leidner, PhD.

In Remembrance of Robin Leidner

June 20, 1957 to September 23, 2022

Robin Leidner, a specialist on sociology of work, died at home on September 23, 2022 of complications from breast cancer. She was 65. Leidner was the author of the influential book Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life. The work was based on her doctoral research at Northwestern University. In her elegantly written book, she demonstrated how employers sought to alter the emotions of workers and clients.  The ethnographic research was based on her time at “Hamburger University” before she worked behind the counter at McDonald’s. She compared this minimum-wage job with the fast food giant (“Would you like fries with that?) with the “scripts” at work and routinization of work in “Combined Insurance.” As she learned how to sell life insurance, she was directed on the exact words she should say,  timing of eye contact, and cultivation of the proper “Positive Mental Attitude” by briskly repeating, "I feel happy! I feel terrific!"  She showed how workers were constrained, and resisted, employers’ efforts to script inauthentic interactions in routinized work settings. Sociologists have termed the work  an “outstanding”… “path breaking” work which transformed research in sociology of work and occupations.  The book has been  cited over 2,500 times.

Leidner grew up in Long Island, graduated from Harvard, and was an actor in a feminist theater group in Providence, Rhode Island before entering graduate school in Northwestern. A feminist scholar,  she taught Sociology of Gender courses along with other subjects at the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania where she was also Undergraduate Chair. She retired at the end of the spring semester of 2022. Students often commented on her warm and supportive manner, praising the ways in which she would ask questions, probe their thinking, and suggest readings in ways which guided them to new intellectual paths. Keith Brown, now Chair at St. Joseph’s University, wrote, “Robin was a great mentor…She was funny, caring, and serious - all at the same time….. [Her] curiosity about the social world was infectious.”    Students also commented on her grounded character and strong moral compass. As Elizabeth Vaquera wrote, ”Robin taught me so much about navigating academia with kindness and integrity.” Colleagues also noted her supportive demeanor.  Daniel Aldana Cohen, a research affiliate at the Population Studies Center, wrote, “Robin was one of my kindest and most supportive colleagues while I was at Penn, and was admired by students and faculty alike.” Regina Baker, currently an Assistant Professor at Penn, wrote, “It’s a devastating loss.” A lifelong fan of Jeopardy Leidner appeared on the popular television program for two nights, winning the first night.  Friends and family will miss her quirky, annual Groundhog’s Day cards. She is survived by her mother, Marilyn Leidner, brother, Michael Leidner, sister-in-law, Beth Leidner, and nephew, Destin Leidner as well as her partner of thirty-five years, Sam Kaplan. She will be missed.