The Podcast for Social Research, Episode 19: Biopolitics in Bloomberg’s New York

The nineteenth episode of the Podcast for Social Research features BISR research associate Jeffrey Escoffier, formerly the director of health, media, and marketing for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene under Michael Bloomberg, in conversation with Ajay Singh Chaudhary and Danya Glabau. Jeffrey, Ajay, and Danya talk through Foucault’s conception of the biopolitical, regimes of biopolitics in New York City, the history of public health, the policing of pleasure, health as morality, the strategies and politics of marketing healthy behavior, and coming down with a bad case of Aristotelian akrasia.

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Episode 19: Biopolitics in Bloomberg's New York


Ajay’s note: I was thinking of the part of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (linked below) on reproduction of the race of workers, which comes from Book I, Chapter VIII, “Of the Wages of Labour,” and follows one of my favorite sections, in which Smith comments on the extreme power imbalance between “Masters” and “Workmen.” (Smith clearly and obviously has in mind not only guild, factory, and other European town definitions of Master but in fact exactly what that would imply to our ears. In this section of the Wealth of Nations, comparisons between slaves and workers and their relative costs are constant, as are discussions of how much money is needed for the women doing the reproducing and rearing.) He notes that “combinations” of “workmen” (i.e. unions) are viciously fought by both government and private measures. “Combinations” of “Masters” (i.e. collusion, etc.) are not only unimpeded but go unmentioned in discussion, Smith observes. The power imbalance is clear to Smith, who grimly notes that the “clamour” produced rarely wins out for the “Workmen.” But then he continues to say that there does seem to be a real absolute minimum wage: “A man must always live by his work, and his wages must be at least sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation.”


Technical Details: This episode of the Podcast for Social Research was recorded at The Workmen’s Circle on February 10th, 2017 and edited by Susan Lee.


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Tags Archive


Aristotle on Akrasia (weakness of will, self-indulgence, lack of self-control, incontinence) in Book VII of the Nichomachean Ethics.

Lauren Berlant, “Risky Bigness: On Obesity, Eating, and the Ambiguity of Health” in Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality.

James Colgrove, State of Immunity: The Politics of Vaccination in Twentieth-Century America.

Jeffrey Escoffier at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Michel Foucault (trans. Alan Sheridan), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

—. (trans. Robert Hurley) The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1.

—. (trans. G. Burchell) Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78.

—. (trans. David Macey) “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the College de France, 1975-76.

Allan Ginsberg, a selection of poems on drugs: HowlKaddish, and “Mescaline.”

Immanuel Kant (trans. T.K. Abbott), Critique of Practical Reason.

—. (trans. Mary Gregor) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

Judith Walzer Leavitt – Typhoid Mary Strikes Back: Bacteriological Theory and Practice in Early Twentieth-Century Public Health. (free to read online)

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1.

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Plato, Republic.

Charles Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866.

Adam Smith, Book I, Chapter VIII, “Of the Wages of Labour” in The Wealth of Nations.

Nancy Tomes, The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life.  

Daniel Zamora and Michael C. Behrendt, eds., Foucault and Neoliberalism.