Digital Society Network research

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

CIV digital code

Each hub is led by academics from different 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 Dmitry Chernobrov from the School of Journalism, Media and Communication.

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 Kate Miltner (Information School) and Jingrong Tong (Journalism, Media and Communication).

Patterns in Practice

Dr Jo Bates from the Information School is leading this AHRC project which aims to bring into question notions of objectivity in the computational practices of data mining and machine learning, asking how practitioners’ values, beliefs and feelings interact to play a role in shaping how they engage in the practice of data mining and with its outputs. The project is asking this question in different – and contrasting – contexts: pharmaceutical drug discovery, higher education learning analytics and arts practice.

Professor Helen Kennedy and Dr Erinma Ochu (MMU) are Co-Is on the project, and Itzelle Medina Perea is the Research Associate.

More information soon. 

Data and algorithms in journalism

Dr Jingrong Tong from the School of Journalism, Media and Communication researches the impact of digital technology and data on journalism and social media communication. She explores how journalism, news organisations and public communication have changed under the influence of the rise of big/open data and digital technology such as algorithms and AI.

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 Susan Oman, Dr Jo Bates, Dr Mark Taylor and others are involved in these projects.

Visit the Living With Data website

Global digital popular culture hub

Focusing on the increasingly important role that digital technology plays in global popular culture, we focus on digital popular culture communities, literacies and practices around the world. This includes questions of, how fandom and popularity develop in digitalised global popular cultures and the role of digital popular culture across the lifecourse, from children and young adults to older people

We explore questions like:

  • How does digital technology shape new modes and ideas of leisure time, play and community across diverse cultural areas?
  • What do children and young people stand to gain (or risk) from their engagements in digital practices?
  • How do digital technologies help the elderly engage with questions of memory and heritage?
  • And more broadly, how (and why) do people produce and consume digital popular culture texts?

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

Led by Jamie Coates (School of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Humanities) and Fiona Scott (Education).

Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children

This LEGO Foundation funded research project in the School of Education, delivered with the LEGO Group and Unicef Innocenti, is delivering in-depth case study research with 50 families, across four countries. The project’s ultimate goal is to change how digital games are designed, putting children’s well-being at the centre of international policy and game design processes.

Past research has often emphasised the risks of children’s digital play and has also highlighted the important learning that takes place when children play digitally. The RITEC project looks more broadly at how aspects of children’s well-being connect with particular digital play experiences. This is being achieved through detailed research with 50 children aged 6-12 and their families. Following an ecocultural approach, the research tools are designed to investigate digital play holistically. The research team are seeking to understand children’s digital play within the complex contexts of their broader everyday lives. In total, 18 researchers have made 240 in-depth research visits to 50 families in four countries: the UK, South Africa, Australia and Cyprus. Find out more on the project’s webpage.

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.

Digital Wellbeing hub

The term 'wellbeing' has become ubiquitous in today's society. Factors impacting upon wellbeing range from personal circumstances, workplace influences and wider cultural and structural issues within society. The role of digital technology within wellbeing is increasingly recognised, as something which can both enrich our lives immeasurably, and cause significant harm. How we interact with digital technology, how such interactions impact upon our wellbeing and how we can use digital technology to promote better wellbeing are all key issues in today's digital society. The main aim of this hub is to draw together discussions currently taking place on these topics across the Faculty and forge both university-wide and external connections. The emphasis is on developing not only a theoretical understanding of these topics, but also using this to drive forward evidence-based impact through wider knowledge exchange.

Led by Emma Jones (Law), Lina Kloviene (Management School) and Chris Blackmore (ScHARR).

Digital Inclusion and Ethics hub

The Digital Inclusion & Ethics hub centres on digital inclusion, technological ethics, and sociotechnical power and will allow the DSN to develop its presence in new fields, attract different scholars and postgraduates from across the faculty and wider university, and reach out to diverse voices across academia, industry, the public sector, and policy. With this hub we will bring a sharper focus onto issues surrounding 1) the ethical design and implementation of new and existing information, communication, and networked technologies 2) the ways in which the adoption and dissemination of these technologies could ameliorate or deepen current societal inequalities and 3) how such processes connect with wider infrastructural apparatuses of sociotechnical power, politics, and capitalism.

These sets of issues are related, and our intention is to create a research space where we can attend to their various implications holistically. To aid this, our proposed hub retains a strong focus on technological practice, responsibility, design, and implementation, and we would seek to make links with disciplines and organisations from outside the social sciences and humanities to foster non-hierarchical and non-dogmatic spaces for productive discussion. With this hub, we will cultivate a vibrant research community that would be able to collectively tackle the key challenges surrounding digital inclusion, ethics, and power in the present day, leading to new opportunities for knowledge exchange and interdisciplinary funding applications to emerge in response.

Led by Sharon Wagg (Information School), Laurence Brooks (Information School), Niall Docherty (Information School) and Kate Hamblin (CIRCLE).

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.

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