Student Spotlight: Austin Gallas defends his Dissertation

Student Spotlight: Austin Gallas defends his Dissertation

Austin Gallas successfully defended his dissertation "Value of Surveillance: Private Policing, Bourgeois Reform, and Sexual Commerce in Turn-of-the-Century New York." He has worked with Dr. Paul Smith, Dr. Amaka Okechukwu, and Dr. Stephen Robertson. Here is a brief interview with Austin conducted by Severin Mueller, in which Austin reflects on his doctoral education at Mason.

How have your research interests changed from the time you began the PhD program to now, and in which direction do you envision your work moving upon graduating?

My research interests have grown in many directions. Because my dissertation project grappled with the archive of a complicated organization and delved into many different sorts of historical and theoretical questions, I have had to examine a wide range of concepts and historical trajectories about which I had little to no knowledge prior to my time in the program. I started off with the intention of writing a Marxist feminist analysis of private policing of prostitution in the progressive era, but I had no clue beforehand how much of my time would be spent in and out of the archive dealing with biographical questions, with the uneven evolution of court procedures and legal codes, and especially with what Marx once humorously called the "economic shit." Currently I am working on two interrelated projects that build on my dissertation work. The first examines the contributions made by the Committee of Fourteen (the central organization studied in my dissertation) to New York’s early minimum wage discourse. It aims generally to explore some of the understudied ways that vice investigations and the organizations behind them influenced classic Progressive Era policy debates. The second ongoing project explores the conflicting views and diverse professional and academic backgrounds of the Committee of Fourteen’s women members. Though several of them went on to be among the most prominent women in American politics during the first half of the twentieth century, not much has yet been written about them in terms of their collective involvement in the Committee of Fourteen's efforts to surveil and police working-class sexuality and sociality.

What kinds of professional development did you pursue while a student and which do you think will best position you to get the job you want: publishing, presenting, teaching, service in the department, engagement in non-university service projects, acquiring particular research skills?

I have had the great fortune of being instructor of record for over twenty courses here at Mason, including some upper-level courses on topics like violence and gender, wealth, and inequality, media theory, and globalization and culture. Additionally, I have devoted countless hours navigating digital and physical archives and have published and presented some of the results of this work in a few different venues. I also served two years as co-chair of the CS student organizing committee and two years as student representative on the program admissions committee, which were both highly rewarding experiences. These opportunities have helped to shape me into a more well-rounded scholar—and, I hope, a more employable one, too!

What is one of your best memories from your time in the PhD program in Cultural Studies?

In the fall 2020 semester, several CS peers and I gathered virtually with some non-academic friends every other week for a small reading group on volume 1 of Marx’s Capital. This was not my first time reading the book. But the process of preparing mini-lectures and reading the text closely with other cultural studies folks in the context of the early months of the pandemic made this a particularly rigorous and engaging learning experience for me––one I will always remember fondly.