Professor Helen Kennedy


Department of Sociological Studies

Professor of Digital Society


Professor Helen Kennedy, Department of Sociological Studies
Profile picture of Professor Helen Kennedy, Department of Sociological Studies
+44 114 222 6488

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Professor Helen Kennedy
Department of Sociological Studies
Elmfield Building
Northumberland Road
S10 2TU

Helen joined the Department of Sociological Studies as a Faculty Research Chair in Digital Society in November 2014. Helen started university life at the University of Birmingham, where she 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.

Helen received her PhD from the University of East London (UEL) in 2002, for a thesis called ‘Digits and Subjects: Autobiographies of Multimedia and Identity’, which was located at the intersection between Science and Technology Studies and Cultural Studies.

Helen worked at UEL for 11 years, where she 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. Helen moved to the University of Leeds in 2008, where she worked in the School of Media and Communication for almost seven years, before coming to the University of Sheffield. Helen hasn't only worked in universities. She worked with street children in Paraguay for a few years, adapting Paolo Freire’s popular education praxis. Helen also worked for the Workers’ Educational Association in the UK. And she has worked as a web designer and a new media project manager. 

Research interests

For more than 20 years, Helen has researched how developments in digital technology are experienced in everyday life. Much of her research has been informed by forms of digital inequality and related mechanisms for change and resistance, for example, class, gender, race, disability, digital labour, digital identity and digital representation. Helen is currently interested in how big data and ‘datafication’ are experienced by non-expert folk as part of their everyday lives, and strategies for living with data. This involves thinking about how data comes into existence, the socio-political contexts in which they are made and shaped, their politics, and the politics of concepts like data ethics, transparency, accountability, and the potential in data-driven systems for bias, discrimination and harm. Helen is also interested in the role of visual representations of data in society and whether data visualisations can mobilise people to act; and in social media, platform politics and algorithmic culture.



Edited books

Journal articles


Book reviews


  • Kennedy H, Taylor M, Oman S, Bates J, Medina Perea I, Ditchfield H & Pinney E (2021) Living with Data survey report RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

Helen directs Living With Data, a programme of research which aims to understand what it’s like to live with data and related phenomena like AI and automation.

Helen was Director of the Faculty of Social Sciences Digital Society Network from 2012 to 2020, a loose network of researchers examining all aspects of digital-society relations.

She is a member of the Everyday Life and Critical Diversities research group within the department, and of the Science, Technology and Medicine in Society group in SCS too.
She is a member of these international associations and learned societies:
  • AOIR (Association of Internet Researchers (International))
  • ICA (International Communication Association)
  • ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association)
  • MECCSA (UK Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association)

(2021-2023) Patterns in Practice: cultures of data mining in science, education and the arts, CoI, AHRC standard grant (approx. £540,000)

(2020-2023) Generic Visuals in the News: the role of stock photos and simple data visualizations in assembling publics, CoI, AHRC Standard Grant (approx. £730,000).

(September 2019 – December 2021) Living With Data: knowledge, experiences and perceptions of data practices, PI, The Nuffield Foundation (approx. £300,000).

(February 2019 – October 2019) Public Trust in Data-Driven Systems and Data Management Models, PI, EPSRC Human-Data-Interaction Network+ and BBC R&D (approx. £30,000).

(January 2019 – August 2019) What Constitutes ‘Good Data’ in the Creative Industries? PI, AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fund (approx. £250,000).

(January 2018 – October 2018) Data, Diversity and Inequality in the Cultural Industries, CoI, AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fund (approx. £300,000).

(September 2016 – September 2019) Relating to Data: understanding data through visualisations, Project Director, ESRC WRDTC PhD Network (approx. £178,000).

(March 2016 – December 2019) INDVIL (Innovative Data Visualisation and Visual-Numeric Literacy) (CoI), Norwegian Research Council & Innovative Datavis in the News, CoI, Norwegian Media Authority (approx. £1m).

(January 2014 – March 2015) Seeing Data: are good big data visualisations possible? PI, AHRC Digital Transformations, (£280,000).

(February 2014 – July 2015) Understanding Social Media Data Mining, PI, AHRC Fellowship (£170,000.00). 

(February 2013 – October 2013) Digital Data Analysis, Public Engagement and the Social Life of Methods, PI, EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+ (£22,330).

(June 2012 – May 2013) Approaches to Understanding Social Media Monitoring, Project Director, £7700, University of Leeds Higher Education Innovation Fund & The Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange.

(January 2012 – December 2012) EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+ Scoping Study: Digital Transformations of Public Engagement, CoI, EPSRC (£21,000).

(May 2012 – October 2012) Web Standards, Web Accessibility and Web Design Education, Project Director, £1969, University of Leeds Higher Education Innovation Fund.

(May 2009 – August 2010) Learning Materials for Inclusive New Media Design, Project Director, University of Leeds Higher Education Innovation Fund (£6880).

(May 2007 – August 2009) Inclusive New Media Design (INMD), PI, AHRC/EPSRC Designing for the 21st Century Initiative (£250,000).

(January 2004 – December 2005) Project @pple: Access and Participation for People with Learning Disabilities in the WWW, CoI, ESRC/EPSRC PACCIT (People at the Centre of Communication and Information Technologies) Programme (£250,000). 

Teaching activities
Helen teaches in these areas:                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  • Digital media and big data;
  • Social media, data and society;
  • Data visualisation in society;
  • Digital media cultures;
  • Researching social media;
  • Working in the digital media and cultural industries.
Professional activities and memberships

Most of Helen's research involves collaborating with non-academic stakeholders in order to seek to enact change. Past and present collaborations include: 

  • From 2019, she has been working with the DWP to research public perceptions of their data practices (on Living With Data) and issues relating to algorithmic bias (through an ESRC-funded PhD studentship). She is a member of the DWP’s Methods Advisory Group (MAG), which supports the DWP in its use of analytical methods and approaches.
  • From 2018, she has been working with the BBC (on Living With Data and other funded projects) to research public perceptions of their uses of users’ personal data.
  • From 2014, she has been working with the data visualisation practitioners (including at The Financial Times, Reach Group PLC and other national media organisations) to explore user engagements with data visualisation and how to produce effective datavis (on various funded projects and a ESRC WRDTP PhD Student Network).
  • In 2015-2016, she worked with social media analysts on user perspectives on social media data mining.
  • Her 2006-2012 research with web designers, the W3C WAI, Adobe and the Rix Centre on building a WWW which is inclusive of people with learning disabilities became an Impact Case Study which was submitted to REF2014, in a submission in which most Impact Case Studies were graded 4*. As a result of this research, the web became more inclusive of people with mild learning disabilities, through changes to international web accessibility guidance and web designers’ practice. 

Helen shares her research with relevant non-academic stakeholders, online and face-to-face, making recommendations for changes to policy and practice. Recent examples include:

  • 2022: Ada Lovelace Institute roundtable series on public attitudes to data regulation and implications for policy
  • 2022: Using data and visualisation to improve ministerial decision-making, Open Innovation Team, UK Government
  • 2022: Advisor, Administrative Data Research UK’s public dialogues
  • 2021: Department for Culture, Media and Sport expert workshops
  • 2021: Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation public attitudes to data and AI tracker survey
  • 2021: Office for Statistics Regulation’s work on public perceptions of public good in official statistics
  • 2020: Contributions to DWP Analytical Community conference.
  • 2019: Participation in All Party Parliamentary Group on health data ethics
  • 2019: Talks at the Department for Work and Pensions on algorithmic bias, data and discrimination
  • 2018: Evidence to Science and Technology Committee enquiry into Digital Government.
  • 2018: Participation in event organised by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and INGSDA (International Network for Government Science Advice) about digital government.
PhD supervision
Helen has supervised 13 PhDs to successful completion, and she has examined 12 PhDs. She is not currently able to take on new students as she is supervising: 
  • Amel Bakour, Gender and social media influencers in Algeria
  • Ruth Beresford, Algorithmic bias: patterns, consequences, alternatives
  • Emily Coupland, Understanding media use in an age of big data
  • Julin Huang, Commodification and rural influencers on short video platforms in China
  • Xiufeng (Sharon) Jia, Digital self-tracking technologies
  • Vibhuti Patel, Online and offline social norms and reducing meat consumption
  • Beckie Ruddock, Female entrepreneurs’ algorithmic imaginaries
  • Kate Wareham, Everyday music listening amongst marginalized adults
  • Yunrui (Vera) Wu, Digital labour in Chinese online fitness industries
  • Xuechen Zhao, Hegemonic masculinity and Chinese men’s self-representation and experiences on dating apps