George Giarchi

Biography of George Giarchi

Dr George Giarchi
Dr George Giarchi

George Giacinto Giarchi graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1981 with a PhD in Sociology, and subsequently became Professor of Social Care studies at the University of Plymouth from 1977 to 2016. He is remembered in Scotland for his innovative social inscape study of the Argyll town of Dunoon in the 1970s - ‘Between McAlpine and Polaris.’

Giarchi was born in Greenock in 1930, the son of Italian immigrants, Gino and Caterinia. When he was two years old, his parents moved across the Clyde to Dunoon, where they opened a café. A bright and academically talented child, he was educated at Dunoon Catholic Primary School and latterly, St. Joseph’s College, Dumfries. While studying at Dumfries he was drawn to the priesthood, and in particular, the Redemptionist Order. He continued his studies with them, finally being ordained a priest in 1955. From the early sixties onwards, Giarchi became known as a charismatic speaker with a gift for explaining complex ideas in simple terms. He toured Britain engaged in missions to young people, and at the height of his religious career he was giving nearly seven hundred talks a year. However, by the close of the decade George had exhausted by this lifestyle. In 1968 he was granted permission by the Vatican to leave the priesthood and was obliged at the age of thirty-seven to completely rebuild his life from the ground-up. With assistance from friends and family, he applied to study for a degree in Applied Social Sciences at the University of Bradford. George had come to know his future wife and life partner, Clare, through Catholic circles in London and in 1969 they married in Glasgow. They were soon to have three children.

In 1973, George graduated from the University of Bradford with BA (Hons) Applied Social Sciences and then undertook a Masters Degree in Sociology of Organisations at the University of Leeds. His Masters thesis examined organisational aspects of the Polaris missile bases of the United States Navy. Having graduated with distinction, he sought to pursue the subject further, and was accepted to study for a PhD in Sociology at the University of Glasgow under the supervision of Professor John Elridge. For Giarchi, Elridge was to be an inspirational academic mentor upon whom he was later to model his own supervision of doctoral students. Intensive fieldwork began in Dunoon in 1974, while George supported his family by working as a social worker in Glasgow. A hugely ambitious suite of sociology, Giarchi’s doctoral research investigated in detail the impact of the military industrial complex upon small-town and semi-rural Scotland. In 1962, the United States Navy had arrived at the Holy Loch and established a base for their Polaris nuclear missiles amid huge controversy. Subsequently, the construction firm, McAlpine’s, arrived and transformed an area of Cowal into a huge construction site dedicated to the North Sea oil industry. Dunoon, previously known as a genteel holiday resort much favoured by Glaswegians, found itself being reshaped by the forces of big business and global finance. Furthermore, in 1975 the district was incorporated into the Strathclyde Region and lost its civic autonomy. Conducted amid this fractious social and political scene, Giarchi’s investigations were motivated by a desire to uncover the workings and effects of outside influence upon the local community in Dunoon and to give voice to the disempowered. He conducted 803 interviews with Dunoonites and supplemented this with a study of contributions to the letters pages of the Dunoon Observer. The resulting sociological and ethnographic study is important for its rarity as one of a small number which studied society in Lowland Scotland during the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1977 George was appointed Principal Lecturer in Social Work at Plymouth Polytechnic, later the University of Plymouth. He moved south with his family, returning briefly to Glasgow in 1981 to attend his doctoral graduation. In 1980 he was promoted to the position of Head of Social Work, and between 1989 and 1995 was Head of the Community Research Centre. In 1995 George became Professor of Social Care Studies. His research interests now focused upon the plight of older people, who he came to understand as amongst the most marginalised and overlooked members of society. George published widely on this topic, including books, academic papers and popular articles, as well as delivering countless lectures at home and abroad. He was also amongst the first to recognise the existence of dementia and with colleagues established the first national Dementia Care Centre in Plymouth. In 2000 he was appointed Emeritus Professor of Social Care. Until his retirement in 2016 on grounds of ill health he worked tirelessly on behalf of his students, colleagues and the elderly. Professor George Giarchi died on the 22nd November 2017, two days short of his eighty-seventh birthday.


George Giarchi
Born 1930.
Died 22 November 2017.
University Link: Graduate
GU Degree: PhD, 1981; Sociology, 1974;
Occupation categories: Catholic Priest; Emeritus Professor of Social Care, University of Plymouth; Head of Social Work, Plymouth Polytechnic [University of Plymouth]; Principal Lecturer in Social Work, Plymouth Polytechnic [University of Plymouth]; Professor of Social Care Studies, Plymouth Polytechnic [University of Plymouth]
Additional Information: Biography supplied by Dr Charlie Lynch, Research Assistant History
Record last updated: 5th Nov 2020

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