9: Ethnographic Walking: Part 2 Prof. Les Back

Season 3, Episode 9,   Jan 25, 2022, 06:00 AM

So……this episode is part 2 of my conversation with Professor Les Back. Les is a leading sociologist and thinker at Goldsmiths University in London. 

He’s written many books and in part 1 we discussed his book The Art of Listening and how having the ability to listen sociologically opens up new ways of getting closer to understanding society. 

Part 2 develops this further where Les and I discuss we need to walk….and walk sociologically? To quote Les from the recording: “To study society you need to get your boots dirty and move”.

This is a powerful quote….and is relevant to not just to social scientists conducting ethnographic research, but also to leaders and HR in organisations. Sometimes when I coach or train leaders to get their boots dirty there is a resistance……this is understandable……

Forcing oneself to move through everyday cultural spaces that we think we know, like an office, and then push oneself to see different things and question why they are different…can be threatening to our embodied sense of rationality. We often don’t want to be challenged. 

I often think of culture as multiple frames that appear to have little curation. They are never static...the frames change in size and form to accommodate uncertainty. By physically moving, walking and listening sociologically, allows you to see multiple frame. The more frames you identify and interpret, the richer your understanding is of the cultural ecosystem is around you. 

We start our conversation on the roof of Warmington Tower at Goldsmiths university in South East London, looking over the London skyscape. We first discuss the cultural meaning of cities……..Cities for Les “are a cross roads of movement, of people, things and culture”. This is powerful and emphasises the need to move to be able to understand.
We then spend time observing at a busy bus stop, understanding the micro rituals at play and the multiple stories in front of us that the rituals frame. 

If you are a social scientist then Part 1&2 will add to your ethnographic repertoire. If you are a leader or work in organisational development or HR, these episodes will help you to begin to think about the importance of decoding culture.

Show Notes:


Selected Writings:
Art of Listening
Academic Diary
The Changing Face of Football: racism, identity and multiculture in the English game

Video on walking:
Les introducing The Sociology of Walking


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