Krystal Ashlee Smalls

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Personal profile

Research Interests

Linguistic Anthropology, Sociolinguistics, African Diaspora Studies
Race, Semiotics, Digital Space, Personhood, Gender, Language Ideology, Discourse, Hip Hop, Diaspora Studies

Professional Information

I study the semiosis of race in young people's lives by conducting ethnographic research in different locations of the "African diaspora" (mostly digital or urban). My work specifically concerns the discourses and practices that constitute blackness, antiblackness, and anti-antiblackness.

One of my recent projects concerning digital subjectivity and sociality (there are a few) considers how uses of "emphatically black" and "intentionallly black" language and discourse in digital space function as public refusals of antiblack "raciolinguistic ideologies" (Rosa & Flores 2017) and semiotically, may help reracialize public spaces and reconfigure racialized signs in significant ways. Another project in development examines uses of black bodies in reaction memes/gifs and of black body parts in internet-mediated images by non-black people and situates these recursive digital practices within a timeline of slavery and its afterlife (following Saidiya Hartman's retemporalization of the present), and therefore within a history of corporeal theft (specifically, different practices of possession, body-snatching, dismemberment). 

I've worked extensively with young urbanites in Monrovia, Liberia and Philadelphia, PA in the US, and I'm in the early stages of a new project with my cultural community: the Gullah/Geechee of coastal and insular South Carolina.


PhD, University of Pennsylvania (2015)
BS, Cornell University (2000)

Office Address

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Davenport Hall - Rm 385
607 S. Mathews Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801

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Research Output 2010 2018

Fighting Words: Antiblackness and Discursive Violence in an American High School

Smalls, K. A., Dec 2018, In : Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 28, 3, p. 356-383 28 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Languages of Liberation: Digital Discourses of Emphatic Blackness

Smalls, K. A., Dec 12 2018, Language and Social Justice in Practice. Avineri, N., Graham, L. R., Johnson, E. J., Riner, R. C. & Rosa, J. (eds.). New York: Routledge, p. 52-60

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

social media

Racialized Masculinity in Digital Space

Smalls, K. A., Mar 2018, Gender: Space. Cox, A. M. (ed.). Macmillan Reference USA, p. 301-316 (Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The proverbial monkey on our backs: Exploring the politics of belonging among transnational African high school students in the US

Smalls, K. A., Jan 1 2014, US Education in a World of Migration: Implications for Policy and Practice. Koyama, J. & Subramanian, M. (eds.). Taylor and Francis, p. 19-37 19 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter