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
Room G30
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

Helen's research interests include:

  • The ‘datafication’ of almost everything, how this affects non-expert folk, the politics of big data, fairness and justice in data analytics;
  • Data visualisations in society, their reception and role in data accessibility;
  • Social media, platform politics, algorithmic culture;
  • Digital media work & practices;
  • Digital & other inventive methods.

Past & present research partners include:

  • DWP (on algorithmic bias)
  • BBC (on user perceptions of uses of their personal data)
  • Financial Times, Visualising Data and other data visualisation agencies (on what makes a data visualisaton effective)
  • W3C WAI, Rix Research and Media for People with Learning Disabilities, Adobe (formerly Macromedia) (on web accessibility for people with learning disabilities).


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
  • 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 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.

2019, AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship Scheme

Title: What constitutes ‘Good Data’ in the Creativity Economy?

2017-20 Norwegian Research Council

Title: INDVIL (Innovative Data Visualisation and Visual-Numeric Literacy)

2018 AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship Scheme

Title: Data, Diversity and Inequality in the Creative Industries

2016-19 ESRC WRDTC

Title: Relating to Data through Visualisation (PhD Network)

2016-17 Norwegian Media Authority

Title: Innovative data visualisation in the news (Co-investigator)

2014-15 AHRC Big Data Scheme

Title: Seeing Data: are good big data visualisations possible? (Principal Investigator)

2014-15 AHRC Fellowship

Title: Understanding Social Media Monitoring (Principal Investigator)

2013 EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+

Title: Digital Data Analysis, Public Engagement and the Social Life of Methods (Principal Investigator)

2012 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) & IGNITE funds

Title: Social Media Labour and the Social Media Industries

2011 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund)

Title: A review of web design education in the UK

2009 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund)

Title: Online Learning Materials for ID Web Accessibility

2007-9 AHRC/EPSRC Designing for the 21st Century Programme

Title: Inclusive New Media Design (Principal Investigator)

2004-5 ESRC/EPSRC PACCIT (People at the Centre of ICTs)

Title: PROJECT @APPLE: Access & Participation Programme for People with Learning Disabilities in the WWW (Co-investigator)

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


2019 Highlights
  • Helen is directing and working on an AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellow (CEEF) funded network called What constitutes ‘Good Data’ in the Creative Economy? with colleagues from the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York. Helen’s project on the network, is in partnership with the BBC and with Dr Robin Steedman.
  • Helen is editing a book with Martin Engebretsen of the University of Agder in Norway, provisionally titled Data Visualization in Society, to be published, open access, in 2019 by Amsterdam University Press. This book project results from and moves beyond INDVIL, Innovative Data Visualization and Visual-Numeric Literacy, a project funded by the Norwegian Research Council.
  • Helen continues to direct a PhD network, Relating to Data through Visualisation, which is funded by the ESRC WRDTC (White Rose Doctoral Training Centre) and involves students and supervisors at the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York.

Helen has been researching digital media (including social media) for 18 years. Her publications and projects have all addressed various aspects of digital and social media. Many of them have been informed by an interest in forms of digital inequality and mechanisms for greater inclusion, for example in relation to class, gender, race and disability. Helen's previous experiences in popular and working class education, and as a working class kid, influence how and what she researches.

Previous research has focused on (a) social media data mining (funded by an AHRC Fellowship, which has resulted in this book: Post, Mine, Repeat: social media data mining becomes ordinary and (b) everyday engagements with data visualisations (Seeing Data, funded by an AHRC Digital Transformation grant).

Before this, Helen’s research focused on digital labour. In 2011, her book Net Work: Ethics and Values in Web Design, published by Palgrave MacMillan, engaged with the ‘turn to values’ in cultural industries research, to trace the ethics and values that underlie much of the work of web design.

Before that, Helen researched in/equalities, inclusions and exclusions in new media consumption.
From 2007 to 2009 she led Inclusive New Media Design, a research project which aimed to identify the best ways to encourage web designers and developers to make websites accessible to people with learning disabilities, and to explore the place of accessibility in the work practices of web designers.