Academic Diary

Or Why Higher Education Still Matters

Les Back

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Les Back has chronicled three decades of his academic career, turning his sharp and often satirical eye to the everyday aspects of life on campus and the larger forces that are reshaping it. Presented as a collection of entries from a single academic year, the diary moves from the local to the global, from PowerPoint to the halls of power. With entries like Ivory Towers and The Library Angel, these smart, humorous and sometimes absurd campus tales not only demystify the opaque rituals of scholarship, they offer a personal route into the far-reaching issues of university life. From the impact of commercialisation and fee increases to measurement and auditing research, the diary offers a critical diagnosis of higher education today. At the same time, it is a passionate argument for the life of the mind, the importance of collaborative thinking and why scholarship and writing are still vital for making sense of our troubled and divided world.

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Les Back's Academic Diary is a profoundly humanistic account of the unexpected and often fleeting day-to-day pleasures of working in a contemporary university.

Laurie Taylor, broadcaster and presenter of Thinking Aloud on BBC Radio 4 

A beautifully written book, full of reflection and reverie, decency, and front-line documentation.

Sukhdev Sandhu, Director of the Center for Experimental Humanities and Associate Professor of English and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University

All academics should make sure that they have a copy to hand.

David Beer, Reader in Sociology at the University of York

When discussions of higher education in England are dominated by loans and questions of finance, it's all too easy to forget about the lived, transformative experience of education. Episodes in Academic Diary serve as healthy reminders of what ought to be central to universities and colleges: learning. More than that, Les Back's generosity and collegiality forge the politics of this book into something distinct. Walter Benjamin wrote in his commentaries on Bertolt Brecht: 'Whoever wants to make the hard thing give way should miss no opportunity for friendliness.' In a similar spirit, Academic Diary tempers sentiment with critical aims.

Andrew McGettigan, author of The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education

Back offers so many insights and points of reflection within Academic Diary that it would be difficult to not come across something that makes you pause and think. I have no doubt that the book will become a firm favourite with many, and one that will be re-read time and time again.

Kate Bailey, LSE Review of Books

 

Les Back

Les Back is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He received a PhD in Social Anthropology from Goldsmiths and taught previously at the Department of Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham. His books include The Art of Listening and The Auditory Culture Reader (with Michael Bull) and The Changing Face of Football: Racism, Identity and Multiculture in the English Game (with Tim Crabbe and John Solomos). He writes journalism and has made documentary films and lives in south London.

Les Back describes how a derelict pub in south east London has been transformed into a new multi-purpose community venue through £4.5 million funding from the Heritage Lottery Foundation. The Fellowship Inn pub was built in 1924 on the Bellingham Estate in Lewisham. It was the first pub to be built on a council estate. For decades it was a vibrant centre of the community and where Henry Cooper trained in 1968 famously before his fight with Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali as the world champion boxer was known later. Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton played gigs at the Fellowship during the blues boom of the 1960s. But by the 1990s the building had fallen into disrepair and the pub had been rundown.

Les meets the people behind bringing the Fellowship Inn back to life including local resident and community activist Pat Fordham and also Jim Driver, Chief Executive of Phoenix Community Housing, who raised the money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and whose vision helped reimagine what the pub might be in the 21st Century. Through partnering with Electric Star, an innovative entertainments and leisure company, the new Fellowship and Star will offer not only be pub but will also offer a cinema, live music venue, café and home for Lewisham Music that offers music education locally.

Les is also guided through the renovated building by Dominique Stephenson who is the special project officer for the Fellowship at Phoenix Community Housing and Lakeisha Lynch-Steven who describes the art and oral history aspects of this ambitious and innovative urban regeneration project.

Produced by Freya Hellier

Following his time as dean of Goldsmiths Graduate School, Les Back records insights into the world of the academic alone with their research: