Phil Cohen Biography

Phil Cohen  was born in 1943 into a medical family and the blitzing of London by V2 missiles. He  has spent  much of his life attempting to recover from these two experiences and from his mis-education at expensive private schools in London.  He went up to Cambridge  to read history and anthropology but quickly  got caught up in the excitement and craziness of the times, dropped out and  became involved in various counter-cultural movements, including the London Street Commune squatters and community action in Covent Garden and Kings Cross.  He wrote a book, with the late Dave Robins  about some of these experiences :Knuckle sandwich: Growing up in the working class city (Penguin 1978).  At about this time he gave a talk to the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birminghham about youth subcultures and working class community in east London, triggered by his local encounters with skinhead gangs. The article  based on this talk  was subsequently published and much  anthologised, establishing a reputation as deviancy theorist which he has been trying to live down ever since.

He returned to Academe  in the 1980’s  as a researcher  at  the Institute of Education where he directed a number of projects on  early leavers and the transition from school. This work is brought together in Rethinking the Youth Question (Macmillan and Duke University Press ).  He then moved to the University of East London , where he established the Centre  for New Ethnicities  Research which he ran for ten years, developing a new approach to working with children and young people  around issues of ‘race’ and identity. A collection of this research New Ethnicities,Old Racisms  appeared in 2002 (Zed Press).  He collaborated with Nora Rathzel  (Umea University) and Les Back and Michael Keith (Goldsmiths College London) on an ESRC funded study of young people’s perceptions of  race, place and identity in London and Hamburg. The findings are published in  Finding the Way Home ( V & R Unipress 2007).  He then set up  the London East Research Institute focussing on the regeneration of East London. He co-edited a collection of  this  work  London’s Turning with Mike Rustin,  (Ashgate 2007) He gained a chair  in 2001,  and  is currently Emeritus Professor  in Cultural Studies  at UEL.

Since retirement he has concentrated on his writing and research, completing a memoir, Reading Room Only (Five Leaves April 2013) ; a collection of his recent academic work in the field of narrative and memory, Borderscapes (Palgrave Macmillan 2013)  and a book on East London and the Olympics On the Wrong Side of the Track (Lawence and Wishart January 2013). He is currently at work on a new book  about ‘uncommon culture’.

He is married to Jean McNeil, the painter, from whom he has learnt to look at the world in a less academic way,  and glimpsed the possibility that there may be more to people and life than  can be gleaned from reading or writing books about them.