scholar | writer | creative



Academic Mission Statement

Kalonji Nzinga, Ph.D. | Cultural Psychologist

Culture never has the translucency of custom; it eludes all simplification. In its essence it is opposed to custom, for custom is always the deterioration of culture.
— Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

In my research I investigate how adolescents and emerging adults develop their sense of right and wrong over the course of their lived experience.  I study how they come to understand moral concepts like authenticity, loyalty and justice as they grow up.

Part of my research includes thinking about the moral concepts they are exposed to in their various cultural environments.  When you hear the term cultural environments, you are probably thinking about their household (growing up in a Latino family), their neighborhood (being raised in Brazilian favelas) or their religious communities (attending a progressive mosque).  Those places and spaces are integral to the process of moral development.  However, I focus mostly on what youth learn about morality from their peers, from digital media, and from various scenes of youth subculture (i.e. rap music).  In a globalized world, how are millennials navigating a kaleidoscope of conflicting ideologies and constructing their own moral identity?   

I do this work in conjunction with the MOSAIC Cultural Psychology Lab at Northwestern University where I am currently a Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Policy.

Selected Publications:

  1. The Moral Priorities of Hip-Hop Listeners

  2. Should Social Scientists Be Distanced From or Engaged With the People They Study



Supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Northwestern University Department of Learning Sciences, SCORE Lab, Circles & Ciphers, and Solidarity Studios

Dissertation Research

What's "Good" In The Hood? 

The Ethical Philosophies Taught and Learned in Rap Lyrics


Left: Album art for The Roots' 2002 release "Phrenology" Center: Rapper ASAP Rocky posing with "prayer hands" a common gesture in rap performance , Right: A list of proverbs and ethical concepts common in rap lyrics

My dissertation research project is a psychoanalysis of young people that are heavy listeners of rap music - sometimes called hip-hop heads - and how their perspectives on morality and ethics are influenced by their engagement with hip-hop culture.  This research shows that rap culture has produced distinct ethical philosophies, that were grounded in the Black experience of the American "hood."  By examining rap culture I argue that the hood has weighed in heavily on ancient philosophical questions like "What is good?" or "What are the components of a good life?"  As the moral perspectives in rap have spread globally, it has made a lasting impact on young people's understanding of authenticity, masculinity and divinity.