Professor Helen Kennedy


Department of Sociological Studies

Professor of Digital Society


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

Full contact details

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.



Journal articles


  • Sen RN (2015) Video Enhanced Reflective Practice with Social Workers In Landor M, Todd L & Kennedy H (Ed.), Video Enhanced Reflective Practice Professional Development through Attuned Interactions Jessica Kingsley Publishers RIS download Bibtex download
  • Xia B & Kennedy H (2014) The role of Chinese internet industry workers in creating alternative online spaces, China Online: Locating Society in Online Spaces (pp. 161-179). RIS download Bibtex download
  • Kennedy H (2014) Beyond anonymity, or future directions for internet identity research, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online (pp. 25-41). RIS download Bibtex download
  • Kennedy H & Leung L (2008) Lessons from web accessibility and intellectual disability, Digital Experience Design: Ideas, Industries, Interaction (pp. 69-79). RIS download Bibtex download
  • Marolt P () China Online Routledge RIS download Bibtex download
  • Suhr HC () Online Evaluation of Creativity and the Arts Routledge RIS download Bibtex download

Conference proceedings papers

  • Engebretsen M, Kennedy H & Weber W (2017) Visualization Practices in Scandinavian Newsrooms: A Qualitative Study. 2017 21st International Conference Information Visualisation (IV), 11 July 2017 - 14 July 2017. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Thomas S & Kennedy H (2009) Mobility and content creation in web professionals' accessibility learning. Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2009, ML 2009 (pp 158-164) RIS download Bibtex download
  • Miller N, Leung T & Kennedy H (1997) Challenging boundaries in adult and higher education through technological innovation. CROSSING BORDERS BREAKING BOUNDARIES (pp 333-337) RIS download Bibtex download

Website content

Research group

Helen is the Director of the Faculty of Social Sciences Digital Society Network, a loose network of researchers examining all aspects of digital-society relations [link:].

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)


(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 a module called Social Media, Data and Society, to third year undergraduates and MA students. She oversees all digital media and society programmes in the department, including our MA Digital Media and Society, and a faculty-wide BA (Hons) Digital Media and Society. Previously Helen has taught:

  • Digital Media Cultures;
  • Researching Social Media;
  • Working in the Cultural Industries / Media Work Placements;
  • Digital Media Project Management / Working in Digital Media;
  • Web Usability, Web Design, Interface Design.
Professional activities

Helen's research involves working with non-academic stakeholders. Past and present collaborations include:  

  • 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*. The societal change was that the WWW became more inclusive of people with mild learning disabilities, through changes to international web accessibility guidance and web designers’ practice. 
  • Since 2019, Helen 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). In 2018, Helen was appointed to the DWP’s Methods Advisory Group (MAG), which supports the DWP in its use of analytical methods and approaches. 
  • Since 2018, Helen 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. 
  • Since 2014, Helen has been working with the data visualisation practitioners (including at The Financial Times and other national media organisations) to explore user engagements with data visualisation and how to produce effective datavis (grants 6, 7 & 8 & ESRC WRDTP PhD Student Network which Helen leads). 
  • In 2015-2016, Helen worked with social media analysts on user perspectives on social media data mining (grant 9). 

Helen shares her research with relevant non-academic stakeholders online and face-to-face, making recommendations for changes to policy and practice. For example, recently: 

  • In 2020, Helen spoke about her research at the annual DWP Analytical Community conference.
  • In 2019, Helen participated in an All Party Parliamentary on data ethics. 
  • In 2018, Helen gave evidence to Science and Technology Committee enquiry into Digital Government.
  • In 2018, Helen spoke about her research to Facebook staff (at their US headquarters), the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), INGSDA (International Network for Government Science Advice) and at an event at the Treasury in Whitehall about digital futures.


Kennedy, H., Oman, S., Taylor, M., Bates, J. and Steedman, R. (2020) ‘Public understanding and perceptions of data practices: a review of existing research’,

Hartman, T., Jones, R., Kennedy, H. and Steedman, R. (2019) ‘Public views on data handling and management models’,

Kennedy, H., Steedman, R. and Jones, R. (April 2019) ‘Audience views on signing into the BBC, related data mining, and future services and models: key findings from the Signing In project’.

Kennedy, H., Hill, R., Allen, W. and Kirk, A. (June 2015) ‘Seeing Data, Feeling Numbers: responding emotionally to data visualisations’, AHRC Digital Transformations Project Book

Kennedy, H, Moss, G, Birchall, C and Moshonas, S (2014) ‘Digital data analysis, public engagement and the social life of methods: final report’ URL:

Kennedy, H., Evans, S., Thomas, S., Staples, P. and 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’ (for the International Institute of Infonomics. 

Kennedy, H. (1998) ‘Return to Learn: UNISON’s fresh approach to trade union education’, London: UNISON.

Blogposts and other online publications

Kennedy, H. (May 21st 2020) Will the public trust the Covid-19 contact tracing app? Lessons from previous research. Discover Society blogpost, 21 May:

Kennedy, H. (May 29th 2020) Should we be concerned about what happens to our data in the context of Covid-19? Festival of Debate short video,

Kennedy, H. (May 4th 2020) ‘Simple data visualisations have become key to communicating about the Covid-19 pandemic, but we know little about their impact’, LSE Impact Blog,

Kennedy, H. (July 22nd 2018) ‘How people feel about what companies do with their data is just as important as what they know’, LSE Impact Blog,

Kennedy, H., Kirk, A., Boy, J., Bertini, E. and Stefaner, M. (March 9th 2016) ‘Data Visualisation Literacy’, Data Stories podcast,

Kennedy, H. and Kirk, A. (February 2016) ‘Same data, different experience’, Significance, Royal Statistical Society (RSS) Magazine, profiled

Kennedy, H. (July 22nd 2015) ‘Seeing Data: visualisation design should consider how we respond to statistics emotionally as well as rationally’, LSE Impact Blog,

Kennedy, H. (July 14th 2015) ‘How people respond to data visualisations and why it matters’, CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ Blog, accessed

PhD supervision

Helen has supervised ten PhD students to successful completion. She is interested in supervising PhDs relating to the research areas listed on her Research page.

She is currently supervising these PhD students:

  • Jiaxun Li, Self-representation on WeChat
  • Lulu Pinney, Developing data visualisation literacy
  • Kate Wareham, Everyday music listening amongst marginalized adults
  • Monika Fratczak, Emotional responses to data and data visualisaiton
  • Ruth Beresford, Algorithmic bias: patterns, consequences, alternatives
  • Emily Coupland, Understanding media use in an age of big data
  • Vibhuti Patel, Online and offline social norms and reducing meat consumption
  • Xiufeng (Sharon) Jia, Digital self-tracking technologies
  • Yunrui (Vera) Wu, Digital labour in a Chinese online fitness company
  • Zhelu Wang, How Chinese people talk about Brexit on social media
  • Amel Bakour, Gender and social media influencers in Algeria
  • Jonathan Sykes, Sustainable buildings, climate change and visualizing uncertainty.