Date of Award

Fall 12-21-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Kristen Buras

Second Advisor

Dr. Joyce King

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Esposito

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Sarita Davis



“Soul in a Can” builds on research that explores Black male identity and containment within structures where racial power is distributed inequitably. This research responds to a need for more diversity regarding the range of Black male voices explored in academic literature. This arts-based qualitative research used a case study design to explore how Black male students and artists navigate the constraints of urban classrooms and the music industry. The following questions guided this exploration: How do contemporary professional Black male recording artists navigate the recording industry’s tendency to restrain their personal “voice” and creative agency in the process of commodifying their talents? How do Black male youth navigate classroom spaces to maintain their personal “voice” and creative agency? Are there similarities between the experiences of Black male artists and Black males in the education system and how they navigate the power differential they face? Data is comprised of participant interviews with six Black males including three students and three professional recording artists. Interviews were conducted in a two-phase process that respectively focused on participant rendered key metaphorsand sound worlds.More specifically, the researcher employed a Critical Race Theory frame emphasizing two of its components— “whiteness as property” and “interest convergence”—along with an Arts-Based Methodology which employed a fugue of elements in order to creatively collect and analyze data. Significantly the study chronicles and offers insight into the Black experience and resistance in two sites—the music industry and classrooms—as lived by Black male artists and students. Notably, these two sites have not been adequately examined in relation to one another. Findings reveal that participants across sites navigated inequitable power through a four-phase process— “I’ll figure it out,” “Peep Game,” “New Attitude,” and “Experience is the best teacher”—in which experiential knowledge was refined and sharpened; this enabled participants to successfully survive endemic racism, but questions remain regarding what the author terms dysconscious acquiescenceor the apparent belief that “surviving” is a substitute for “thriving.” Implications abound regarding the impact of structural containment on Black identity development, cultural authenticity, and expression.