Digital Society Network research

The Digital Society Network is organised around three hubs: Digital Politics; Data, Algorithms and AI in Society; and Global Digital Popular Culture.

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Each hub is led by two academics from departments across the faculty to enhance visibility, give focus to our work, provide an entry point for new staff engaged in digital society research and enable us to interface with other areas of the University. 


Digital Politics Hub

The Digital Politics Hub brings together researchers interested in the relationship between politics and the digital.

With a focus on the power structures and dynamics that exist between actors, institutions and practices, we explore questions like:

  • What are the democratic implications of modern digital practices
  • How is digital being used by international political actors, how do new digital actors emerge and alter the existing relationships of power
  • How do the public perceive digital tools? 

Led by Kate Dommett, Politics and Dmitry Chernobrov, Journalism.

The challenges of studying digital campaigning

The DSN recently supported a series of workshops funded by the British Academy and organised by Dr Katharine Dommett on the challenges of studying digital campaigning.

Recognising the growth of online campaigning tools such as political advertising and deep fake videos, the events gathered together a group of leading academic experts and practitioners. The two events have resulted in the publication of the report ‘The Challenges of Studying Digital Campaigning’ which can be found here (PDF, 815KB). 

These events have gone onto inform new collaborations and research projects at the University of Sheffield, with scholars working together from Politics, Psychology and the Information School to study the practices and effects of online political campaigns.

Digital humanitarian technologies and the politics of crises

‘Digital Humanitarian Technologies and the Politics of Crises’ is a research project led by Dr Dmitry Chernobrov. The project explores the impact of digital innovation on humanitarian crisis politics, particularly on the inter-relationships between affected societies, local governments, humanitarian organisations, and digital volunteer groups.

This research involves interviews and collaborations with major humanitarian agencies and digital volunteer networks and has been supported by a grant from the Sheffield Institute for International Development. This ongoing project has resulted in recent publications and media commentaries.


Data, algorithms and AI in society hub

Focusing on the consequences of the increasingly ubiquitous collection and algorithmic processing of digital data and the related growth in everyday AI technologies, we explore questions like:

  • How are data, algorithms and AI changing organisations, work, everyday life, society and culture, both positively and negatively?
  • How does their expansion relate to broader social issues (or wicked problems) such as inequality, fairness and justice?
  • How should these developments be governed to ensure that they work for, not against, people and society?

Led by Jo Bates, Information School and Helen Kennedy, Sociological Studies.

Algorithmic transparency

Dr Jo Bates and Professor Paul Clough from the Information School are collaborating with the Open University of Cyprus and three leading universities across Europe and Israel in the establishment of The Cyprus Center for Algorithmic Transparency (CyCAT) with support from an H2020 Twinning grant.

The aims of the project are to promote digital literacy through raising citizens’ awareness of the ways in which data analytics and algorithmic processes affect their access to information and opportunities, and to develop computational methods, personalized tools, as well as innovative training and education programs that address these issues.

Living with data

‘Living with data’ is a group of research projects which aim to understand the new role of data in society, in times of ‘datafication’. This is a termed used by Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger and Kenneth Cukier (2013) to describe the way in which many aspects of social life are increasingly transformed into quantitative data, including in fields such as health, education, politics, travel, friendship, searching for information, expressing emotions.

Advocates of datafication argue that data-driven change results in a wide range of benefits. Critics are concerned about the harms and risks that result from widespread datafication.

But what do citizens and members of the public think? How does datafication affect them? What do they know about it, how do they perceive and experience it, how do they feel about it?

The Living With Data projects are all concerned about living with data – that is, how datafication is affecting the lives of ordinary people. Professor Helen Kennedy, Dr Jo Bates, Dr Mark Taylor and others are involved in these projects. Visit the Living With Data website to find out more.


Global digital popular culture hub

Focusing on the increasingly important role that digital plays in global popular culture, we focus on online pop culture communities and practices, and how fandom and popularity develop in digitalised global popular cultures.

We explore the interplay between the digital and wider debates in popular culture through both a local and a global lens and ask questions like how does digital engage with new modes and ideas of leisure time, play and community?

The global reach of research in this hub extends to East and South East Asia, Africa and USA and Europe.

Led by Jamie Coates (School of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Humanities), Ysabel Gerrard and Lukasz Szulc (Sociological Studies).

Fans, followers, sympathizers, citizens?

How is political representation and participation reflected and contested by online audiences?

In ‘Fans, followers, sympathizers, citizens?’ Florencia Garcia-Rapp is examining user comments on the official Facebook profile of Buenos Aires province's first female governor, María Eugenia Vidal, to assess a diversity of citizenship performances from an interpretive epistemology.

This contribution from the fields of digital and popular culture at the intersections with audience and fandom research interprets through visual and textual analysis 500 comments and an array of official posts from the governor.

Comments demonstrate not only identification, but hope and respect for the work of the politician. They demand ‘changing the rules of the game’ and congratulate her for having started to do so. Between the performance of fannish affect and a certain 'hopeful citizenship', user comments are interpreted in light of intimacies of identification and the framework of political celebrification.

Fan tourism: exploring cultural and aesthetic dimensions of transnational film fan tourism

Film based tourism has key economic, social and cultural implications, not only for the nations involved but also for those nations whose citizens engage in both online and offline exploration of the real-life spaces of their film-fandoms.

Developing and extending an on-going project supported by Thailand Research Fund and the British Academy Newton Fund, ‘Fan Tourism: exploring cultural and aesthetic dimensions of transnational film fan tourism’ highlights the importance of online participatory culture to fan visitors to Thailand, Cambodia, Singpore and other areas in South East Asia.

The key aims are to enable Thailand and UK based partners to work in collaboration to explore the wider debates related to SEA film trails and the online and offline interaction of fans and spaces.

Researchers include Wikanda Promkhuntong (from the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, Thailand) and Professor Kate Taylor-Jones (from the School of East Asian Studies, Sheffield University, UK). Visit the project website to find out more.


Affiliation with Digital, Data and Innovation for Development (DDI)

DSN collaborates with and supports the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID) Research Theme, Digital, Data and Innovation, led by Dorothea Kleine from Geography, which aims to help leverage digital technologies, data and innovation for change towards social and environmental justice in a prosperous world.

DDI brings together staff members and PhD students from 12 departments at the University of Sheffield, including the Information School, Engineering, Geography, Urban Studies and Planning, Grantham Centre, Health, Education, East Asian Studies and Management.


Affiliation with digital humans

DSN works with and supports the iHuman Research Theme, led by Warren Pearce from Sociological Studies, which looks at how digital is remaking what it means to be human.

Our research considers how the accelerating digitisation of society is changing what we know, who has power, and how we see our fellow humans.

Issues include the changing face of online expertise, the impact of self-monitoring devices on our health and social relations, and how social media platforms enable new expressions of digital identity.


Digital methods for social change

The term ‘digital methods’ refers to a range of tools and techniques for gathering and analysing digital data from across web and social media platforms for the purposes of social research, for example, Twitter metadata, YouTube comments, Wikipedia histories.

Bringing together expertise in this field from the faculty’s departments of Politics, Sociological Studies and Information School, DSN hosts a range of activities, including training courses, workshops, seminars and lectures on the topic of digital methods for social change.

Flagship institutes

The University’s four flagship institutes bring together our key strengths to tackle global issues, turning interdisciplinary and translational research into real-world solutions.