Who We Are

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Prof. Leslie Bank
Principal Research Specialist
Inclusive Economic Development

Prof Leslie Bank is currently the strategic lead on livelihoods and education in the Inclusive Economic Development Division (IED) at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). He joined the HSRC as Deputy Executive Director of the Economic Development and Performance Unit in 2016. He also holds adjunct positions at Walter Sisulu University and the University of Fort Hare (UFH), both are historically black universities in South Africa. Prof Bank was previously the founding Director of the Fort Hare institute of Social and Economic Research (2005-2015), and has worked at several other South African universities, including the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand and Rhodes. He has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at Cambridge University, a Senior Harry Oppenheimer Fellow at Oxford and a Senior Fulbright Research Fellow at Emory University in the USA.

Leslie is an anthropologist who works on questions of urbanisation, settlement, migration, livelihoods, people?s science, identity politics, heritage, and human economy in Southern Africa. Recently, he has developed an interest in higher education and city-campus innovation districts, as well as smart city frameworks and innovations. He also has an active interest in housing policy and human settlement formation and in the field of comparative urbanism. He has also worked recently on rural development and land reform projects.

Prof Bank has extensive research and project experience working within urban and rural communities in southern Africa over several decades. In recent years, his work has focused primarily on the shifting meanings and practices of ?home-making? in southern Africa. His work explores the complex cultural, political and economic relationships between dwelling, building and belonging in different contexts and offers new and critical insights into place-making, livelihoods, land reform, urban settlement, trans-locality and development. At a theoretical level this work, which is mainly ethnographic in nature, has also thrown new light on questions of class, migration, gender and generational relations, as well as the tension between spatial planning, poverty and inequality in society. In relation to the latter theme, he is now working on how city-campus precincts contribute to urban growth and innovation with a broader focus on smart city interventions. Another anchor project concerns the use and role of heritage products and public art to stimulate tourism, but also re-engage the issue of inclusive urban histories and identities. Professor Bank has recently finished a major national study on the capacity of public housing programmes to facilitate better ?access to the city? for the urban poor in South Africa.

Prof Leslie Bank has a BA (History & Anthropology), BA Hons (African Studies), MA (cum laude) and a PhD (Social Anthropology) from the University of Cape Town.

Leslie has authored five books and edited three others in the past decade. Two of his authored books are forthcoming in 2021, Closing the Gate: Covid 19, Custom and People?s Science in Rural South Africa (Hurst Press with Vuyokazi Sharpley) and Sobukwe?s Children: Whiteness and the Africanists Struggle for Freedom in South Africa (HSRC Press with Ndipiwe Mkuzo). His three other books include, City of Broken Dreams: Myth-making, Nationalism and the University in a South African Motor City (Michigan State University Press, 2019), Imonti Modern: Picturing the Life and Times of a South Africa Location (HSRC Press 2017, with Mxolisi Qebeyi), and Home Spaces, Street Styles: Contesting Power and Identity in a South African City (Pluto Press: 2011). The three recent edited collections are Migrant Labour after Apartheid: The Inside Story (HSRC Press, 2020, with Dorrit Posel & Francis Wilson), Anchored in Place: Rethinking Universities and Development in South Africa (African Minds, 2018, with Nico Cloete & Francois van Schalkwyk) and Inside African Anthropology: Monica Hunter Wilson and her Interpreters (Cambridge University Press, with Andrew Bank).

Prof Leslie Bank has been an active member of Anthropology Southern Africa, where he has twice served as president over the past decade (2011-2014). He is also on the executive committee of the International Africa Institute (IAI) and on the editorial board of the IAI journal Africa, as well as other local journals. He is an editor for the prestigious The International African Library series of books on Africa, published through Cambridge University Press. https://www.cambridge.org/core/series/international-african-library