Professor Les Back

  • Head of Subject (Sociology) (Sociology)

Biography

I joined Glasgow as Head of Sociuology in 2022.  Before that I was the Director of the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths, University of London.  I started out my journey into sociology as a youth worker in London in the 1980s where young people were creating new kind of cultural of expression in language, music and idenity in the face of discrimination, racism and hatred.  That experience really shaped my intellectual and political commitmnets.  I work as a social research at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education London  and Birkbeck College, London.  I taught in at the Department of Cultural Studies, University of Cultural Studies before returning to Goldsmith in 1993.  

Research interests

My writing is ecclectic and ranges from studies of racism and fascism on-line to the claassed meanings of Christmas lights.  My pubslihed worik is mainly in the areas of the sociology of race and racism, ethnicity, multiculturalism, urban culture, music and sport.  In recent years I have also focused on writing about teaching and scholarly craft through the publication of my book Academic Diary: Why Higher Education Still Matters (The Goldsmiths Press, 2016).  I have written ten authored and co-authored books; four edited books, seventy-six refereed journal articles, forty-nine book chapters and sixteen research monographs.  My work has been translated into six languages (Japanese, Korean, German, Brazilian Portuguese, French and Danish) and I have been invited to give keynote lectures in eleven countries (USA, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, Holland, Austria). My book Migrant City (Routledge, 2018) that is co-authored with Shamser Sinha, Charlynne Bryan, Vlad Baraka & Mardoche Yembi develops an experiment mode of co-creation in which research participants are also credited as authors.  

I have tried to make public interventions and contributions to debates around issues of immigration, racism, city life and the changing nature of the academy.  I have written for The Guardian, Times Higher, Open Democracy and Discover Society.  More recently I have been experimenting with the academic potential for podcasting both in teaching and research communication.  I presented a podcast entitled Streetsigns linked to my current role as Director for the Centre for Urban and Community Research   In this sense I am committed to trying to blur the boundaries between the University and the broader civic and public sphere.  I am taking on presenting Glasgow’s Recovering Community podcast series developed within the School of Social and Political Sciences.    

Grants

2019 Phoenix Community Housing Evaluation of the Fellowship Inn Heritage Lottery Redevelopment £5,000

2014-2019 Art and Humanities Research Council Bass Culture; An Oral History of Reggae (co-investigator)  (Mykaell Riley, University of Westminster) £573,031

2011-12 Economic and Social Research Council National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) Networks for Methodological Innovation Real Time Research Real Time Research (with Professor Celia Lury and Professor Robert Zimmer) £23,729

2011 British Academy Shock and Awe: 100 years of bombing from above British Academy Conference Support Grant (with Professor Paul Gilroy, LSE) £10,816

2008-2011 European Union EUMARGINS Project: European conditions for inclusion and exclusion of young adults of immigrant background (with Katrine Fangen Oslo University) 1,953,587 Euros  [£1,699,881.92]

2006–2008 Economic and Social Research Council Researcher Development Initiative (PTA-035-25-0017) Live Sociology: Practising Social Research with Digital Media £61,365 

2002 The Monitoring Group A Feasibility Study for a National Racial Harassment Helpline £15,000

2001-2002 Women’s Employment in Business Gender and Discrimination in the Manual Trades £60,000

2000-2002 Economic and Social Research Council Grant L215252046 Democratic Governance and Ethnic Minority Political Participation in Contemporary Britain (with Professor John Solomos, Professor Michael Keith and Dr Kalbir Shukra) £180,000

1996-8 Economic and Social Research Council Grant R 00023 6301 ‘Finding A Way Home’: Young people, Urban Space and Racial Danger (with Professor Michael Keith and Professor Phil Cohen) £138,832

1995-6 Goldsmiths College Internal Research Fund ‘Blue-eyed Soul’: Black Music, White Muscicans and the Southern Dream of Freedom  £2,145 

1996-7 The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, New York U.S.A. The Cultural Mechanisms of Racist Expression: a Study of Racism and Anti-Semitism in Graffiti, Pamphlets, Style and Body Symbolism (with Professor John Solomos and Professor Michael Keith) $51,220 [£33,164.95]

1995-6 AGARI Group Evaluation of the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign 1995/6 £2,500

1995-6 Economic and Social Research Council Grant R000235639 The Cultures of Racism in Football Project (with Professor John Solomos and Dr Tim Crabbe) £103,870

1993-4 Economic and Social Research Council grant R000234272 The Social Basis of Racist Action Among Young People in Outer City Areas (with Professor Roger Hewitt) £70,329

Supervision

I have a wide experience of PhD supvision and I am currently supervising students in the field of multicultural conviviality, immigration control, cultural identuty, racism and fascism, nationalism, sport, social class, gentrification and urban divisions. 

I have supervised thirty-one PhD candidates to completion, including: 

  • Miranda Armstrong Black Single Parents (ESRC Funded), 2021
  • Chantelle Lewis Black Mixed Raceness, 2021
  • Sarah Walker Young Refugees and Reception in Italy (ESRC Funded), 2021
  • Macarena Bonhomme Making ‘Race’ at the Urban Margins: Latin American and Caribbean Migration in Multicultural Chile, 2020
  • Vanessa Hughes Young Asylum Seekers in London (ESRC Funded). 2020
  • Chloe Peacock Responding to the London Riots (ESRC Funded), 2020
  • Elaine Williams Deconstructing Knife Crime (ESRC Funded), 2020
  • Rachel Kenehan Young Offenders in Long Term Custody, 2018
  • Phil Thomas A Critical Criminology and Open Book (AHRC Funded), 2018
  • Marcus Morgan Exhuming Humanism: Re-evaluating Sociology (ESRC funded), 20177
  • Aisda Phoenix Living Under Occupation: Student Experiences in Palestine (ESRC funded), 2017
  • Karla Berrens Soundscape and Place in East London
  • Suhkwant Dhaliwal – Gender, Faith and Politics (ESRC funded)
  • Steve Hanson – Community in a northern town (part-time)
  • Thomas Zacharias Race and Racism in Germany (part-time)
  • Sireita Mullins Post colonial legacies of marginalisation as rendered in the visual works of multiethnic young people in Lambeth , 2011 (Full-time ESRC Case Studentship)
  • Takeshi Arimoto, Body Culture and Nationaliskm in Modernizing Japan 1868 to the 1920s, 2011
  • Alex Rhys-Taylor Coming to Our Senses: A Multisensory Exploration of Class and Multiculture in East London 2011 (full-time ESRC Student)
  • Patrick Turner Hip Hop Versus rap: An Ethnography of the Cultural Politics of New Hip Hop Practices, 2011 (Full-time ESRC Studentship)
  • Emma Jackson Young Homeless People and Urban Space: Dis/placements, Mobilities and Fixity 2010 (Full-time ESRC Studentship)
  • Polly Haste Tackling the 'difficult' subject: an ethnographic exploration of sexual learning in secondary schools (Full-time ESRC funded student) 2008
  • Emma Nugent Building a Creative Persona (Full-time ESRC funded student) 2004
  • Yasmeen Narayan Race and Identities, (Full-time ESRC funded student) 2004
  • Alison Rooke Lesbian Geographies, (Full-time ESRC funded student) 2004
  • Jo Hadley Police and Institutional Racism (Full-time ESRC funded student) 2004
  • Roxy Harris New Ethnicities and Language Use, 2004
  • Jo Sadler Policing and Youth Crime (Full-time ESRC funded student), 2004
  • Hiroki Ogarasawa – Sectarianism and Football Culture in Scotland, 2003
  • William Henry – Dance Reggae and the Hidden Voice of Black London, 2002 (full ESRC studentship)
  • Colin King Play the Whiteman: Black Players and the transition to management, 2002
  • Philly Desai Spaces of Identity, Cultures of Conflict: the development of New British Asian Masculinities(full-time, ESRC studentship) 2000
  • Garry Robson - ‘No One Likes Us...’: Millwallism, class and masculinity in south London (full-time, ESRC Studentship) 1999

   

Teaching

My key teaching areas are in research methods and scholarly craft, race and racism, migration studies, city life and the sociology of music.  Research methods teaching often feels like the most unloved part of the social science curriculum.  The Field Fables Project tried to bring some of the life and excitement of doing research into the classroom through filmed re-enactments of scenarios that had actually happened in research projects.  Using techniques inspired by forum theatre we used actors to re-stage these fieldwork scenarios.  As they watched the action on screen students could judge the researcher in action but also imagine themselves in the scenario.  The films have been very popular, and they are being used in research methods course in seventy-five UK universities.   The British Sociological Association is currently working on ways to make these films available to sixth form sociology teachers.   In my own teaching I have developed a range of pedagogic ideas including teaching course on urban life through walking to getting students to creating collective Spotify playlists for an undergraduate course I teach on the sociology of music. I have a long commitment both through my writing and teaching to decolonizing social science, challenging institutionalised racism in Higher Education and developing at less Eurocentric curriculum.