Professor Wendy Sung is assistant professor of race, media, and digital culture in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. An interdisciplinary scholar and educator trained in critical ethnic studies, digital and media studies, and American studies, her work sits at the intersection of comparative histories of racialization in the U.S., transmedia histories and digital culture, and the dynamics of visuality and cultural memory. Her research and teaching are animated by two questions: how do media and digital technology instantiate new relationships of racialization, visuality, and knowledge? And conversely, how do racialized subjects innovate, concretize, or challenge paradigms of the technological? She asks these questions to not only reconstruct racial histories of digital technologies in the longue durée, but also to critically examine historical claims about the distinctiveness of modern digital practices and epistemologies. Informed by feminist and critical race studies, Sung has examined varied visual media such as street art, reality television, Twitter, chatbot technologies, and biometrics, to name a few.
Her first book project, Violent Virality: Racial Violence and the Making of New Media examines the relationships between race, technology, and media cultures through the phenomenon of watching racial violence in 20th and 21st century American culture. Bringing together visual culture and digital and media studies, critical ethnic studies, and cultural memory, this monograph theorizes a new genealogy between spectacular anti-Black violence across new forms of media and argues that racial violence is instrumentalized as a type of social and cultural beta-testing for new media’s value and “newness.” Each chapter of the manuscript examines an iconic instance wherein state-sanctioned racial violence intersects with the emergence of new media technology: television’s proliferation into the American home and civil rights violence in the early 1960s; the Rodney King beating and George Floyd’s death, mobile media technologies, and the rise of viral citizen journalism; King’s appearance on reality television in 2004’s post-network age; and finally, Twitter and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtags memorializing Sandra Bland’s death in 2015. Through these case studies, she illuminates how racial violence becomes a condition of possibility for emerging media technologies to utilize its images and social importance as a conduit for legitimation, reversing the dominant paradigm of technological relations between violent spectacle and media. Moreover, this research demonstrates how this hidden relationship between racial violence and emerging media created new racial formations and produced unexpected modes of witnessing and memory that are integral to the concepts of freedom, technological advancement, and racial progress in the US.
She is also at work on a second book project tentatively titled, Faciality/Raciality: The Asian Face as Technological Object, which examines the ways that the Asian face, in its racialized logics of non-recognition—indistinguishability and inscrutability— functions as an unacknowledged foundational subject for facial recognition technologies. She has published and forthcoming work in Social Text, The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies (formerly Cinema Journal), Feminist Media Histories, Hyperriz, and the anthologies, Global Asian American Popular Cultures and African Americans and Popular Culture.
Prior to joining the WACD faculty, she held appointments as an assistant professor of critical media studies at UT Dallas and a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in UC Riverside’s Media and Cultural Studies department. She was the recipient of the Institute of Citizens and Scholars’ (formerly The Woodrow Wilson Foundation) One-Year Career Enhancement Fellowship. She received her Ph.D. from University of Michigan’s Department of American Culture.
Visual culture, Asian American studies, Black studies, digital culture, media studies, surveillance studies, cultural memory, comparative histories of racialization within the U.S., television studies, transmedia histories and technologies, American popular culture, cultural studies
Creative Practice and Research
Recent courses include Visual Cultures: The Politics and Practices of Looking and Race, Nation, and Media Histories