Value of Surveillance: Private Policing, Bourgeois Reform, and Sexual Commerce in Turn-of-the-Century New York

Austin Gallas

Major Professor: Paul Smith, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Stephen Robertson, Amaka Okechukwu

Online Location,
April 29, 2022, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Scholars have long mined the archive of the Committee of Fourteen (1905–1932)––a powerful private police and anti-prostitution organization backed by influential industrialists and social reformers––to examine a range of important aspects of New York City history, from the emergence of queer subcultures to the policing of working-class sexual identities and practices to the extralegal enforcement of Jim Crow. However, the saga of the Committee of Fourteen has not often been told from a Marxian point of view, and as a result some remarkable aspects have been underemphasized in telling. This dissertation fills this lacuna by providing a consideration of the Committee of Fourteen’s origins, methods, intellectual contributions, political influence, and beliefs through a Marxian lens. It returns to this privileged archive to reframe the Committee’s flexible strategies of coordinated political action, vigilante methods of undercover policing, and contributions to social science as potent(ial) sites of capitalist class composition. Employing categories from Karl Marx’s writings on value theory and the bourgeois state, Michael Ralph’s “forensics of capital,” Marxist feminist historiography, and Foucauldian theories of surveillance, this work situates the history of privatized undercover policing in turn-of-the-century New York City within the broader processes of interclass antagonism and intraclass cooperation that served as the background against which organizations like the Committee of Fourteen and its counterparts functioned.