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.

CUCR is a well established interdisciplinary research centre within Goldsmiths’ Department of Sociology with a distinguished history of collaboration with local communities and activists. It combines theoretical investigation with critical ‘local’ project implementation from Deptford to Jakarta. It's podcast series Street Signs is 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: