Oct. 3, 2022

CMF Welcomes Dr. Julia Chan

Dr. Chan joins CMF as an Assistant Professor of Critical Media Practice
Dr. Julia Chan
Dr. Julia Chan

The Department of Communication, Media and Film is delighted to welcome Dr. Julia Chan to UCalgary! Dr. Chan holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from Queen’s University where her doctoral research explored the connections between image-based sexual abuse, surveillance, and cinematic/visual cultures. More recently, she was a Mitacs Postdoctoral Visitor in Cinema and Media Arts at York University and the Managing Editor of the journal PUBLIC: Art / Culture / Ideas. Last year, she was the inaugural Postdoctoral Fellow at Carleton University’s Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Dr. Chan’s scholarly work has appeared in the journals Porn Studies and Media Industries, and the edited collection Screening #MeToo: Rape Culture in Hollywood. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Chan is also a writer and an artist. Her fiction has appeared in magazines such as Joyland, subTerrain, Cosmonauts Avenue, and LitroNY. As a screenwriter, her short film In Shadow screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won Best Short Screenplay at the International Cherokee Film Festival. Dr. Chan’s photography and video work have been exhibited at the Tett Centre and Queen’s University.

We caught up with Dr. Chan earlier this month and asked her some questions about her work and what she looks forward to in joining CMF.

What topics are the focus of your current research, and why do you feel that it is important to explore these topics?

In broad terms, my research is concerned with how racialized gender, sexual(ized) violence/crime, pleasure, and surveillance/digital media technologies converge. One of my current projects examines the surveilled subject in “desktop” films. (Desktop films are films whose mise-en-scène are computer desktops, or other media screens like cellphones. Probably the most famous is the Unfriended series.) This is a relatively new type of film and there’s still not a lot of literature on the topic yet, so there’s plenty to explore. I think it’s important because films like these play with cinematic convention and invent new ways of telling stories, so I’m curious to understand what they’re saying about the relationship between technology and racialized/gendered subjectivities. Are they saying new things? Or are they saying the same old things? I’m also currently working on research related to surveillance and pleasure with Stéfy McKnight at Carleton University. To that end, we’re guest-editing a themed issue of the journal Surveillance & Society that will be released in 2023, and we’re also coming to the end of a speakers series we organized over 2021-2022, both of which explore the relationship between surveillance and pleasure. Even though things like play and video games have been explored in surveillance studies, there hasn’t been much attention paid to the question of pleasure. And while I’m interested in the surveillance of pleasure (such as the criminalization of sex, or surveillant entertainment), what is even more interesting to me is the potential for surveillance practices and technologies to be used in pleasurably resistant ways—especially by those groups who have been historically targeted by surveillance.

In what ways do your artistic endeavors relate to, or support your academic work?

Cam Hunters is the main creative project that I’ve been working on these days. It’s a collaborative research-creation performance project (with Stéfy McKnight) that interrogates the ways in which surveillance manifests in our everyday lives. Essentially, it explores surveillance culture. We’ve done a number of things through Cam Hunters, such as the pleasure thread I’ve just mentioned, plus some satirical videos and a podcast. The idea of becoming a “cam hunter” grew out of my doctoral research, which was concerned with media and cultural discourses around image-based sexual abuse, which includes phenomena like so-called “revenge porn” or “creepshots.” I kept coming across blogs and news articles about “how to protect yourself” from hidden cameras in vacation rentals and I thought, “could you imagine starting a business that sweeps people’s hotel rooms and vacation rentals for hidden cameras?” (As it turns out, those businesses do exist!) And that’s how Cam Hunters came to be—we started by assuming these fictional “cam hunter” personae. On the one hand, Cam Hunters uses performance and media art to disrupt surveillance culture, and in that sense it is the creative arm of my academic work in surveillance studies. But on the other, I think that its more absurd aspects can also provide a humourous way to deal with broader anxieties about surveillance.

As a new faculty member in CMF, what do you look forward to?

There’s so much to look forward to! I’m very excited to join the department, to get to know everyone and their interests, to build new collaborations, and to become a useful contributing member of both the university and larger city.

Dr. Chan is teaching COMS 503: Spectacle and Media Culture this fall. She is giving a presentation of her research, BOTH AND NEITHER: SURVEILLANCE, RACIALIZED GENDER, AND ONTOLOGICAL INSTABILITY on Wednesday, October 5, 2022, 3-4 p.m.