607 S. Mathews Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801
Linguistic Anthropology and Sociolinguistics, Cultural Anthropology, African Diaspora Studies
- race, semiotics, digital space, personhood, gender, discourse, language ideology, hip hop, migration
I study the semiosis of race 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, anti-Blackness, and anti-anti-Blackness.
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 anti-Black "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, Linguistics
I'm currently working on a monograph titled Telling Blackness: Young Liberians and the Semiotics of Contemporary Diaspora in an Anti-Black World, under contract with Oxford University Press and am co-editing a special issue of the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology on "Language and White Supremacy" with Arthur Spears and Jonathan Rosa.
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. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12327
Smalls, K. A. (2021). Fat, Black, and Ugly: The Semiotic Production of Prodigious Femininities. Transforming Anthropology, 29(1), 12-28. https://doi.org/10.1111/traa.12208
Smalls, K. A., Spears, A. K., & Rosa, J. (2021). Introduction: Language and White Supremacy. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 31(2), 152-156. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12329
Smalls, K. A. (2021). Introduction to the Forum on Language and Anti‐Blackness. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 31(2), 258-260. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12328
Smalls, K. A., Spears, A. K., & Rosa, J. (Eds.) (2021). Language and White Supremacy. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 31(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.v31.2