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Karyl Kicenski


Contact Information

Office  2317 Rolfe Hall
Phone  310-825-5736
While my early degrees were in the field of Communication Studies, my doctorate degree is in Cultural Studies. Thus, I aim to uncover the links between the expression of ideas and the structures of social power and privilege. My central research questions tend to ask how meanings are created through cultural frameworks and how these meanings either advance or limit human emancipation and dignity. While research is important to this aim, I am also extremely committed to the classroom and the collaboration of teaching and learning.

My research interests fall into two major areas. First, I am concerned to understand the ways that communication—and meaning making more generally—construct ideological appeals to power and agency in contemporary society.  My current book uses rhetorical analysis and critical theory to study the socio-political phenomenon of private prisons in the state of California—a state which houses one of the largest prison populations on Earth (Cashing in on Crime:  The Drive to Privatize California State Prisons, 2013).  I make the claim that the drive to privatize prisons is the story of the formation of social relationships—and specifically the communication shaping those relationships—functioning to produce and reproduce economic, political and ideological appeals of popular opinion and media at the very center of the state.  I suggest that the rhetoric and persuasion substantiating the privatization of prisons defines political platforms and candidacy, gives impulse to public policy, promotes particular union interests and builds the very boundaries of race and class in the public mind.  Ultimately, this research poses the question:  “How is the profit motive is enhanced as punishment fails to decrease crime within the state, and how does this fact affect the class of citizens we typically incarcerate in this country?”

My previous research, while focusing upon a number of different content areas, aligns with the broader aims of that above:  to analyze public communication that undergirds social, political and cultural ideologies enabling power and privilege.   A few of those projects have included the commercialization/commodification of the university system in the U.S., the perversity of mediated images surrounding sports star, Allen Iverson, and the media accounts of Los Angeles uprising. 


My second area of research focuses upon critical pedagogy and teaching practices that enhance student learning.   I am interested in how both the structure of teaching lessons and “best practices” encourage effective and insightful learning.  I am also concerned to study the ways that teaching and learning foster projects of social justice and democracy.   I have written about and presented my  findings as well as facilitated teaching workshops with a cadre of professionals for the last ten years. This work aims to collaborate with others about how to provide spaces of learning that capitalize upon creativity, self-reflexivity and principled action.

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Ph.D., Philosophy, Cultural Studies, George Mason University

M.A., Communication Studies, California State University, Northridge

B.A., Communication Studies, California State University, Northridge


Cashing in on Crime: The Drive to Privatize State Prisons in California [Forthcoming 2013] Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishing.

Cashing in on Criminality: Private Prisons, Corporate Power & the Color of Crime.  Spirart Justice Journal Spring 2009 Volume 1: 2.

The Discourse of Crime & Terror. Paper: Hawaii International Conference on Arts & Humanities, January, 2005.

Fields of Study

Rhetorical Theory & Criticism; Ideological discourses within Public/Popular Culture; Cultural Studies & Critical Theory; the Intersections of Race & Class with Global Capitalism; Critical Pedagogy & Teaching & Learning Styles