Professor Helen Kennedy
Department of Sociological Studies
Professor of Digital Society
+44 114 222 6488
Full contact details
Department of Sociological Studies
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.
- Post, Mine, Repeat: Social Media Data Mining Becomes Ordinary. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Net Work. Palgrave Macmillan UK.
- Data Visualization in Society. Amsterdam University Press.
- 'Generic visuals' of Covid-19 in the news: invoking banal belonging through symbolic reiteration. International Journal of Cultural Studies. View this article in WRRO
- Approaching public perceptions of datafication through the lens of inequality: a case study in public service media. Information, Communication and Society, 24(12), 1745-1761. View this article in WRRO
- Public perceptions of good data management: findings from a UK- based survey. Big Data and Society, 7(1). View this article in WRRO
- Complex ecologies of trust in data practices and data-driven systems. Information, Communication & Society, 23(6), 817-832. View this article in WRRO
- Book Review: Noortje Marres, Digital Sociology: The Re-Invention of Social Research. Sociology, 53(1), 216-218.
- The Feeling of Numbers: Emotions in Everyday Engagements with Data and Their Visualisation. Sociology, 52(4), 830-848. View this article in WRRO
- Data Stories: Rethinking journalistic storytelling in the context of data journalism.. Studies in Communication Sciences(Beyond the myth of journalistic storytelling – Why a narrative approach to journalism falls short.(Special Issue)), 191-206.
- Data visualization in Scandinavian newsrooms : emerging trends in journalistic visualization practices. Nordicom Review, 39(2), 3-18. View this article in WRRO
- View this article in WRRO Living with Data: Aligning Data Studies and Data Activism Through a Focus on Everyday Experiences of Datafication. Krisis : Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, 2018(1), 18-30.
- Data Power in Material Contexts: Introduction. Television and New Media, 18(8), 701-705. View this article in WRRO
- The Pleasure and Pain of Visualizing Data in Times of Data Power. Television and New Media, 18(8), 769-782. View this article in WRRO
- On fairness: User perspectives on social media data mining. Convergence, 23(3), 270-288.
- Engaging with (big) data visualizations: Factors that affect engagement and resulting new definitions of effectiveness. First Monday, 21(11). View this article in WRRO
- Visualizing Junk: Big Data Visualizations and the need for Feminist Data Studies. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 40(4), 331-350. View this article in WRRO
- The work that visualisation conventions do. Information, Communication and Society, 19(6), 715-735. View this article in WRRO
- News/Interview. Significance, 13(1), 4-15.
- Known or knowing publics? Social media data mining and the question of public agency. Big Data & Society, 2(2), 205395171561114-205395171561114. View this article in WRRO
- Data and agency. Big Data & Society, 2(2), 205395171562156-205395171562156. View this article in WRRO
- Cultural studies of data mining: Introduction. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5), 379-394.
- Knowing your publics: The use of social media analytics in local government. Information Polity, 20(4), 287-298. View this article in WRRO
- Balancing the potential and problems of digital data through action research: methodological reflections. Information Communication and Society, 18(2), 172-186. View this article in WRRO
- Perspectives on Sentiment Analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(4), 435-450.
- Can the Web Be Made Accessible for People with Intellectual Disabilities?. The Information Society, 27(1), 29-39.
- Net work: the professionalization of web design. Media, Culture & Society, 32(2), 187-203.
- Going the Extra Mile. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(2), 177-196.
- Book Review: Terry Flew, New Media: An Introduction (3rd edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. xi + 304 pp. ISBN 9780195551495, £19.99 (pbk). New Media & Society, 11(3), 455-457.
- NEW MEDIA'S POTENTIAL FOR PERSONALIZATION. Information, Communication & Society, 11(3), 307-325.
- ICTs and learning disability: multidisciplinary perspectives on Project @pple. Aslib Proceedings, 59(1), 97-112.
- Beyond anonymity, or future directions for internet identity research. New Media & Society, 8(6), 859-876.
- Subjective Intersections in the Face of the Machine. European Journal of Women's Studies, 12(4), 471-487.
- Young people and new media.. NEW MEDIA & SOCIETY, 5(4), 573-575.
- Technobiography: Researching Lives, Online and Off. Biography, 26(1), 120-139.
- Data stories. Rethinking journalistic storytelling in the context of data journalism. Studies in Communication Sciences, 18(1).
- Against Amateur Economies: Spec Work Competitions and the Anti-spec Movement. Cultural Studies Review, 19(1).
- The Role of Everyday Visuals in ‘Knowing Humans’ During COVID-19 In Martin P, de Saille S, Liddiard K & Pearce W (Ed.), Being Human During COVID-19 Bristol University Press
- Researching Public Trust in Datafication: Reflections on the Deliberative Citizen Jury as Method, Transforming Communications – Studies in Cross-Media Research (pp. 391-414). Springer International Publishing
- Data Visualisations: Newsroom Trends and Everyday Engagements In Gray J & Bounegru L (Ed.), The Data Journalism Handbook 2: Towards A Critical Data Practice Amsterdam University Press
- Data visualization and transparency in the news In Engebretsen M & Kennedy H (Ed.), Data Visualization in Society Amsterdam University Press
- Is data culture? Data analytics and the cultural industries In Oakley K & O'Connor J (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries (pp. 398-407). Routledge
- Data visualisation as an emerging tool for online research In Fielding N, Lee R & Blank G (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods Sage
- The role of Chinese internet industry workers in creating alternative online spaces, China Online: Locating Society in Online Spaces (pp. 161-179).
- Beyond anonymity, or future directions for internet identity research, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online (pp. 25-41).
- Lessons from web accessibility and intellectual disability, Digital Experience Design: Ideas, Industries, Interaction (pp. 69-79).
- Book Review: Review of Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences and the Intimate Work of Connection by Nancy Baym. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 28(3), 925-926.
- 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
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