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Krystal Smalls

Profile picture for Krystal  Smalls

Contact Information

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

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Linguistic Anthropology and Sociolinguistics, Cultural Anthropology, African Diaspora Studies
- race, semiotics, digital space, personhood, gender, discourse, language ideology, hip hop, migration, Africa, Liberia, US

Research Description

I study the semiosis of race (raciosemiotics) in young people's lives by conducting ethnographic research in different locations of Black 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)

Additional Campus Affiliations

Assistant Professor, Anthropology
Assistant Professor, Linguistics

Highlighted Publications

Smalls, K. A. (2020). Race, SIGNS, and the Body: Towards a Theory of Racial Semiotics. In H. S. Alim, A. Reyes, & P. Kroskrity (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language and Race (pp. 233-260). Oxford University Press.

Smalls, K. A. (2021). Fat, Black, and Ugly: The Semiotic Production of Prodigious Femininities. Transforming Anthropology, 29(1), 12-28.

Smalls, K. A. (2018). Fighting Words: Antiblackness and Discursive Violence in an American High School. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 28(3), 356-383.

Smalls, K. A. (2018). Languages of Liberation: Digital Discourses of Emphatic Blackness. In N. Avineri, L. R. Graham, E. J. Johnson, R. C. Riner, & J. Rosa (Eds.), Language and Social Justice in Practice (pp. 52-60). Routledge.

Smalls, K. A. (2010). Flipping the Script: (Re)constructing Personhood through Hip Hop Languaging in a U.S. High School. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 25(2), 35.

View all publications on Illinois Experts

Recent Publications

Smalls, K. A., & Davis, J. L. (2023). Language and Racism. In A. Duranti, R. George, & R. C. Riner (Eds.), A New Companion to Linguistic Anthropology (pp. 560-576). (Wiley Blackwell Companions to Anthropology). Wiley-Blackwell.

Davis, J. L., & Smalls, K. A. (2021). Dis/possession Afoot: American (Anthropological) Traditions of Anti‐Blackness and Coloniality. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 31(2), 275-282.

Smalls, K. A. (2021). Fat, Black, and Ugly: The Semiotic Production of Prodigious Femininities. Transforming Anthropology, 29(1), 12-28.

Smalls, K. A., Spears, A. K., & Rosa, J. (2021). Introduction: Language and White Supremacy. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 31(2), 152-156.

Smalls, K. A. (2021). Introduction to the Forum on Language and Anti‐Blackness. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 31(2), 258-260.

View all publications on Illinois Experts