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Encounter: The Cultural Progressivism of James Earl Davis

Purdue University
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  • Education


Encounter: The Cultural Progressivism of James Earl Davis Encounter The Cultural Progressivism of James Earl Davis An Interview by Leonard J. Waks One of the most exciting progressive intellectuals to address issues of culture and education in the last decade is James Earl Davis. Davis’s work has focused on male identity formation in its cultural and educational contexts, with special emphasis on Black boys and young men. Two words frequently found in Davis’s writings are “hegemony” and “complexity.” The cultural resources available to young men as they come of age include hegemonic cultural definitions, those exerting a preponderant influence over their under- standing of people, events and situations. Davis has been especially concerned about conceptions of “manhood,” or “manliness” that shape subsequent masculine behavioral patterns when they are internalized by young Black men as they work out their own indi- vidual identities. Davis has been interested in how these preponderant or hegemonic defini- tions are constructed in everyday social life. He has been even more interested in how they obscure or constrain the complex variety of ways of understanding oneself and responding to life situations. For Davis, there is simply more social and cultural complexity than any hegemonic definitions, or any set of defini- tions, can ever encompass. Davis admits that hegemonic definitions of manhood or manliness may be useful to young men in some ways, during their period of individuation. These definitions, however, can also be very dangerous if they promote negative be- havior patterns or obscure alternative understandings that might engender more positive, life-affirming patterns of living. 78 ♦ E&C/Education and Culture 20(2) (2004): 78–90 Encounter: The Cultural Progressivism of James Earl Davis ♦ 79 Therefore much of Davis’s work consists in “deconstructing” hegemonic definitions, uncovering alternative definitions, which, tho

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