Professor Helen Kennedy

Professor of Digital Society

(PhD, University of East London; MA Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham)

Photograph of Helen Kennedy September 2014

Room: Elmfield, G30 | Telephone: 0114 222 6488 (external), 26488 (internal)

Academic Profile

I joined the Department of Sociological Studies as a Faculty Research Chair in Digital Society in November 2014. I started university life at the University of Birmingham, where I got a first class BA Honours degree in English and American Studies, and later an MA in Cultural Studies from CCCS, the famous Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. I received my PhD from the University of East London (UEL) in 2002, for a thesis called ‘Digits and Subjects: Autobiographies of Multimedia and Identity’ which I undertook in a Science and Technology Studies department.

I worked at UEL for 11 years, where I set up one of the first digital media programmes in the country, and went on to look after a suite of BA and MA programmes in the field of digital media. I moved to the University of Leeds in 2008, where I worked in the School of Media and Communication for almost seven years, before coming to the University of Sheffield.

I haven’t only worked in universities. I worked with street children in Paraguay for a few years, adapting Paolo Freire’s popular education praxis. I also worked for the Workers’ Educational Association in the UK. And I’ve worked as a web designer and a new media project manager. I still do that sometimes, usually on a pro bono basis, for cash-strapped charities or other good people and projects.

Currently, my research interests are in: social media / social media data mining / big data / visualisation; digital media theory and practice; media work; digital and action / participatory methods.


I have been researching digital media (including social media) for 18 years. My numerous publications and projects have addressed various aspects of digital and social media, and many of them have been informed by an interest in forms of digital inequality and mechanisms for greater inclusion, for example in relation to class, gender, race and disability.

I am currently researching (a) social media data mining (funded by an AHRC Fellowship) and (b) the reception of data visualisations ( (funded by an AHRC Digital Transformation Big Data grant). I am interested in critical approaches to big data analytics, especially big data visualisations, and in how to make data more accessible to ordinary citizens, or how to make the social life of data more public.

Previous research focused on the digital labour. In 2011, my book Net Work: Ethics and Values in Web Design, published by Palgrave MacMillan, engaged with the recent ‘turn to values’ in cultural industries research, to trace the ethics and values that underlie much of the work of web design. It argued that the ideals that underpinned the development of the WWW in 1991 – openness, accessibility and interoperability – influences people who work on the web, and their reasons for doing web work. It is based on more than 10 years spent researching, teaching and doing web design and other forms of new media theory and practice.
Before that, I researched in/equalities, inclusions and exclusions in new media consumption. A couple of years ago I led Inclusive New Media Design, a research project which aimed to identify the best ways to encourage web designers and developers to make websites accessible to people with learning disabilities, and to explore the place of accessibility in the work practices of web designers. I’m still involved in web projects which address the accessibility needs of people with learning disabilities; I recently worked with human rights organisation CHANGE People in relation to this.


  • I’m organising a conference, supported by my AHRC Fellowship, entitled Data Power, which will take place here in Sheffield in June 2015. More information will follow soon.
  • I’m presenting at ECREA (European Communications Research and Education Association) in Lisbon in November 2014, and MECCSA (the UK Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association) in Newcastle in January 2015, with Rosemary Lucy Hill, on our Seeing Data project.
  • I’m editing a special theme for the new open access journal Big Data and Society on data and agency, with José van Dijck and Thomas Poell from the University of Amsterdam.
  • I’m editing a special issue of The European Journal of Cultural Studies on Data Mining / Anaytics, with Mark Andrejevic of the University of Queensland and Alison Hearn of the University of Western Ontario. Exciting!
  • I’m working on journal articles with Giles Moss, Chris Birchall and Stylianos Moshonas, our research team on an EPSRC-funded project Digital Data Analysis, Public Engagement and the Social Life of Methods.
  • I’ve just written a chapter entitled ‘Is data culture? (Big) data analytics and the cultural industries’ for Kate Oakley & Justin O’Connor’s edited collection The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries to be published by Routledge in 2014.
Funded Research Projects
Date Sponsor Details
2014-2015 AHRC Big Data Scheme Seeing Data: are good big data visualisations possible?
(Principal Investigator)
2014-2015 AHRC Fellowship Understanding Social Media Monitoring
(Principal Investigator)
2013 EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+ Digital Data Analysis, Public Engagement and the Social Life of Methods
(Principal Investigator)
2012 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) & IGNITE funds Social Media Labour and the Social Media Industries
2011 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) A review of web design education in the UK
2009 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) Online Learning Materials for ID Web Accessibility
2007-2009 AHRC/EPSRC Designing for the 21st Century Programme Inclusive New Media Design
(Principal Investigator)
2004-2005 ESRC/EPSRC PACCIT (People at the Centre of ICTs) PROJECT @APPLE: Access & Participation Programme for People with Learning Disabilities in the WWW


I’m not currently teaching, but I have recently taught in these areas:

  • Dissertation supervision (undergraduate, MA & PhD).
  • New Media Cultures (MA);
  • Researching Social Media (MA & third year);
  • Working in the Cultural Industries / Media Work Placements (MA & third year)
  • New Media Project Management / Working in New Media (third year)
  • Web Usability, Web Design, Interface Design (first year);

Postgraduate Supervision

I have supervised six PhDs to successful completion. I’m interested in supervising PhD students working in the following areas:

  • Social media / social media data mining / big data / visualisation
  • Cultural & social issues relating to digital and social media
  • New media theory and practice
  • Media work, production practices and cultural labour.
  • Digital methods
  • Action research / participatory methods
  • Gender and the media / feminist STS

To find out more about our PhD programmes, go to:

Studying for a PhD in Sociology



  • Kennedy, H (2015, forthcoming) Social Media Data Mining: Practices, Problems, Possibilities, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kennedy H (2011) Net Work: Ethics and Values in Web Design. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kennedy H; Henwood F; Miller N (eds.) (2001) Cyborg Lives? Women's Technobiographies. Raw Nerve Books, York University.

Journal Articles

  • Kennedy, H. and Moss, G. (in preparation) ‘Social media data mining and the question of public agency’ (to be submitted to Big Data and Society).
  • Moss, G., Moshonas, S., Kennedy, H. and Birchall, C. (submitted) ‘Knowing publics: digital methods as democratic innovations’ (Journal of Information Technology and Polity).
  • Kennedy, H., Moss, G., Birchall, C. and Moshonas, S. (2014) ‘Balancing the potential and problems of digital data through action research: methodological reflections’, Information Communication and Society (18:2): 172-186.
  • Kennedy, H., Elgesem, D. and Miguel, C. (submitted) ‘On fairness: user perspectives on social media data mining (Convergence: the international journal of research into new media technologies).
  • Kennedy H (2013) “Against amateur economies: spec work competitions and the anti-spec movement”, Cultural Studies Review. [Accepted]
  • Kennedy H (2012) “Perspectives on Sentiment Analysis”, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. 56.4 [Accepted]
  • Kennedy H (2010) “Net Work: the professionalisation of web design”, Media, Culture and Society. 32.2: 187-203.
  • Kennedy H; Thomas S; Evans S (2010) “Can the web be accessible for people with intellectual disabilities?”, Universal Access in the Information Society: international journal. 27.1: 29-39.  Reproduced in Herold, D.K., Sawney, H. and Fortunati, L. (eds) (2012) Understanding Creative Users of ICTs, Routledge.
  • Kennedy H (2010) “The successful self-regulation of web designers”, Ephemera: theory and politics in organisation. 10.3-4
  • Kennedy H (2009) “New Media: An Introduction, 3rd edition”, New Media & Society. 11.3: 455-457.
  • Kennedy H (2009) “Going the extra mile: emotional and commercial imperatives in new media work”, Convergence. 5.2
  • Kennedy H (2008) “New media's potential for personalization”, Information Communication and Society. 11.3: 307-325.
  • Kennedy H; Williams P; Bunning K (2006) “ICTs and learning disability: multidisciplinary perspectives on Project @pple”, Aslib Proceedings. 59.1: 97-112. Awarded the Emerald LiteratiNetwork outstanding paper award, 2008.
  • Kennedy H (2006) “Beyond anonymity, or future directions for Internet identity research”, New Media and Society. 8.6: 859-876.  Reproduced in: (1) Thornham, S., Bassett, C. and Marris, P. (eds) (2009) Media Studies: A Reader, 3rd Edition, Sage Publications; and (2) Poletti, A. and Rak, J. (eds) (forthcoming) Identity Technologies: producing online selves.
  • Kennedy H (2005) “Subjective intersections in the face of the machine: gender, race, class and PCs in the home”, European Journal of Women's Studies. 12.4: 1350-1368.
  • Kennedy H (2003) “Technobiography: researching lives, online and off”, Biography: An International Quarterly. 26.1: 120-139.  Reproduced in Harrison, B. (ed) (2009) Life Story Research, in the Benchmarks in Social Research series, London: Sage.
  • Kennedy H (1999) “Identity construction in a virtual world: The homepage as auto/biographical practice”, Auto/Biography Studies. 7.1-2: 91-98.


  • Kennedy H (2015) "Is Data Culture? Data analytics and the cultural industries", In: Oakely K; O'Connor J (eds) The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries. Routledge.
  • Kennedy H; Xia B (2014) “The role of Chinese Internet industry workers in creating alternative spaces”, In: Marolt P; Herold DK (eds.) Online China: locating society in online spaces. Routledge.
  • Kennedy H; Thomas S; Evans S (2009) “Inclusive New Media Design: The Place of Accessibility Guidelines in the Work of Web Designers”, In: Designing for the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Methods and Findings. Gower Publishing.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L (2008) “Lessons from web accessibility and intellectual disability”, In: Leung L (eds.) Digital Experience Design. intellect books.
  • Kennedy H; Hen; Henwood F; Hughes G; Miller N; Wyatt S (2001) “Cyborg Lives in Context: writing women's technobiographies”, In: Henwood F; Kennedy H; eds NM (eds.) Cyborg Lives? Women's Technobiographies. Raw Nerve Books, York University.
  • Kennedy H (2001) “HMTK meets HTML: from technofraud to cyberchick”, In: Henwood F; Kennedy H; eds NM (eds.) Cyborg Lives? Women's Technobiographies. Raw Nerve Books, York University.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L; Miller N (2000) “Tending the tamagotchi: rhetoric and reality in the use of new technologies for distance learning”, In: Wyatt S; Henwood F; Miller N; Senker P (eds.) Technology and In/Equality: Questioning the Information Society. Routledge.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L; Poynter G (2000) “Shipping in and shaping up? Profiling company employment patterns in London's Docklands and inner east London”, In: Eastern Promise: Education and Social Renewal in London's Docklands.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L; Miller N (2000) “Project @THENE: widening access in virtual learning communities”, In: Butler T (eds.) Eastern Promise: Education and Social Renewal in London's Docklands.


  • Kennedy H; Evans S; Thomas S; Staples P; Sweeney P (2009) Inclusive New Media Design: including people with intellectual disabilities in the web.
  • Kennedy H (2002) Infonomics and New Media: postgraduate multimedia education in Europe. International Institute of Infonomics.
  • Kennedy H (1998) Return to Learn: UNISON’s fresh approach to trade union education. UNISON.