Applying a Cognitive Lens to the Exploration of Social Mobility for African American Men: A Phenomenological Study

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Virginia Tech


The American Dream which boasts equal opportunity, meritocracy, and prosperity in accordance with an individual's hard work and dedication continues to instill hope in upward social mobility. Understanding social mobility necessitates an examination of individuals' or groups' ability to move upward or downward in status based on wealth, occupation, education, or some other social variable ("Social mobility," n.d.). Accordingly, social mobility within a hierarchical status system like the United States parallels inequality and presents challenges for underrepresented populations. More specifically, there is a gap that exists in the perceptions, generalizations, and realizations of social mobility for Black men in America resulting in a dichotomous disparity that is perplexing and adds to some of the greatest challenges and barriers to social mobility facing Black men. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to employ a cognitive lens to examine factors affecting the social mobility experiences of Black men throughout their educational and occupational pursuits, and/or community involvement; ultimately giving voice to a traditionally marginalized group. Cognitive problem solving styles, decision making, performed behaviors, and diverse social interactions were explored within the context of negotiating overarching stereotypes, overcoming barriers, making good decisions, and persisting towards social mobility. The conceptual framework for the study took into account cognitive function, race, and resilience by way of Kirton's Adaption-Innovation Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Resilience Theory, respectively. The study findings offer counter-narratives to rebuff dominant ideology about Black men in society, facilitate an understanding of values and motivators, introduce characteristics that aid social mobility, and may inform strategies, policies, and programing that affect Black men. Recommendations for further research are also offered.



social mobility, cognitive function, KAI, race, resilience, Black men