The Cultural Matrix seeks to unravel a uniquely American paradox: the socioeconomic crisis, segregation, and social isolation of disadvantaged black youth, on the one hand, and their extraordinary integration and prominence in popular culture on the other. Despite school dropout rates over 40 percent, a third spending time in prison, chronic unemployment, and endemic violence, black youth are among the most vibrant creators of popular culture in the world. They also espouse several deeply-held American values. To understand this conundrum, the authors bring culture back to the forefront of explanation, while avoiding the theoretical errors of earlier culture-of-poverty approaches and the causal timidity and special pleading of more recent ones.
There is no single black youth culture, but a complex matrix of cultures—adapted mainstream, African-American vernacular, street culture, and hip-hop—that support and undermine, enrich and impoverish young lives. Hip-hop, for example, has had an enormous influence, not always to the advantage of its creators. However, its muscular message of primal honor and sensual indulgence is not motivated by a desire for separatism but by an insistence on sharing in the mainstream culture of consumption, power, and wealth.
This interdisciplinary work draws on all the social sciences, as well as social philosophy and ethnomusicology, in a concerted effort to explain how culture, interacting with structural and environmental forces, influences the performance and control of violence, aesthetic productions, educational and work outcomes, familial, gender, and sexual relations, and the complex moral life of black youth.
An ambitious new anthology…meant to show that the culturalist tradition still has something to teach us.
Considering recent tragedies and protests involving black youths, the police and the legal system—along with the centuries of devastation wrought by racial bias—a work exploring the impact of culture is both timely and welcome… Patterson and his peers present a balanced, rigorous interpretation of culture, with ample empirical evidence, and include the actual voices and viewpoints of black youths… They also suggest possible strategies and tactics for the ways in which culture can be understood and employed to improve the lives of black youths—in all their rich diversity and potential.
In The Cultural Matrix, Patterson and about two dozen other academics try to understand the persistence of segregation, social isolation, poverty and crime among Black youth… The Cultural Matrix provides an important framework for understanding an urgent issue that should be a public policy priority.
This pathbreaking book examines an essential topic that men and women in the street discuss but that social scientists too often ignore: the contrast between the economic and social plight of black youth, on the one hand, and their cultural creativity, on the other. Jam-packed with carefully researched essays by outstanding scholars from a broad array of disciplines, this volume, edited by the ever-fearless Orlando Patterson, is crowned by his call to take culture seriously and his brilliant demonstration of just how to do so. Must reading for students and scholars of urban black America, The Cultural Matrix is an invaluable resource, one to be pondered and savored.
The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth is a landmark book that I believe will become an instant classic. It is replete with original insights on the cultural life of black youth, which enhance our understanding not only of their social plight, but their creativity as well. We are deeply indebted to Orlando Patterson and his colleagues for a work that will change the way we think about black youth and the complex circumstances that impact and shape their lives.
- 688 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
- With Ethan Fosse
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