Photograph of Helen Kennedy September 2014Professor Helen Kennedy

Professor of Digital Society

(PhD, University of East London; MA Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham)

Telephone: 0114 222 6488 (external), 26488 (internal)
Room: Elmfield, G30


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. 


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).


In 2019:

  • 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.

Funded Research Projects
Date Sponsor Details
2019 AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship Scheme What constitutes ‘Good Data’ in the Creativity Economy?
2017 - 2020 Norwegian Research Council INDVIL (Innovative Data Visualisation and Visual-Numeric Literacy)
2018 AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship Scheme Data, Diversity and Inequality in the Creative Industries
2016-2019 ESRC WRDTC Relating to Data through Visualisation (PhD Network)
2016-2017 Norwegian Media Authority Innovative data visualisation in the news (Co-investigator)
2014-2015 AHRC Big Data Scheme Seeing Data: are good big data visualisations possible?
(Principal Investigator)
2014-2015 AHRC Fellowship Understanding Social Media Monitoring
(Principal Investigator)
2013 EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+ Digital Data Analysis, Public Engagement and the Social Life of Methods
(Principal Investigator)
2012 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) & IGNITE funds Social Media Labour and the Social Media Industries
2011 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) A review of web design education in the UK
2009 University of Leeds HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) Online Learning Materials for ID Web Accessibility
2007-2009 AHRC/EPSRC Designing for the 21st Century Programme Inclusive New Media Design
(Principal Investigator)
2004-2005 ESRC/EPSRC PACCIT (People at the Centre of ICTs) PROJECT @APPLE: Access & Participation Programme for People with Learning Disabilities in the WWW


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.

Postgraduate 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.

To find out more about our PhD programmes, go to:
Studying for a PhD in Sociology


Publications since 2005


Journal Articles

  • Kennedy, H. (2018) ‘Living with data: aligning data studies and data activism through a focus on everyday experiences of datafication’, Krisis: journal for contemporary philosophy, 1.
  • Engebretsen, M., Kennedy, H. and Weber, W. (2018) ‘Data visualization in Scandanavian newsrooms: emerging trends in journalistic visualization practices’, Nordicom Review, 39(2).
  • Weber, W., Engebretsen, M. and Kennedy, H. (2018) ‘Data stories: rethinking journalistic storytelling in the context of data journalism’, Studies in Communication Sciences (SComS), 18(1).
  • Kennedy, H., & Hill, R. L. (2017) The Feeling of Numbers: emotions in everyday engagements with data and their visualisation. Sociology. OnlineFirst 14 February 2017. doi:10.1177/0038038516674675
  • Kennedy, H. and Hill, R. (2016) ‘The pleasure and pain of visualising data in times of data power’, Television and New Media. OnlineFirst 19 September 2016. doi: 10.1177/1527476416667823
  • Hill, R., Kennedy, H. and Gerrard, Y. (2016) ‘Visualising junk: the gendered derision of a data visualisation’, Journal of Communication Inquiry, 40(4):331-350. doi: 10.1177/0196859916666041
  • Kennedy, H., Hill, R., Aiello, G. and Allen, W. (2016) ‘The work that visualisation conventions do’, Information, Communication and Society, 19(6): 715-735. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1153126
  • Kennedy H, Hill RL, Allen W and Kirk A. (2016) 'Engaging with (big) data visualizations: Factors that affect engagement and resulting new definitions of effectiveness', First Monday 21(11). doi: 10.5210/fm.v21i11.6389
  • Moss, G., Moshonas, S., Kennedy, H. and Birchall, C. (2015) ‘Knowing your publics: the use of social media analytics in local government’, Journal of Information Polity, 20(4): 287-298. doi: 10.3233/IP-150376
  • Kennedy, H. and Moss, G. (2015) ‘Known or knowing publics? Social media data mining and the question of public agency,’ Big Data and Society, 2(2):1-11. doi: 10.1177/2053951715611145
  • Kennedy, H., Elgesem, D. and Miguel, C. (2015) ‘On fairness: user perspectives on social media data mining,’ Convergence, doi: 10.1177/1354856515592507.
  • Andrejevic, M., Hearn, A. and Kennedy, H. (2015) ‘Cultural studies of data mining: an introduction’, The European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5): 379-394. doi: 10.1177/1367549415577395
  • Kennedy, H., Moss, G., Birchall, C. and Moshonas, S. (2014) ‘Balancing the potential and problems of digital data through action research: methodological reflections’ Information, Communication and Society, 18(2):172-186. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2014.946434
  • Kennedy, H. (2013) ‘Against amateur economies: spec work competitions and the anti-spec movement’, Cultural Studies Review, 19 (1). Reproduced in / adapted for Suhr, C. H. (ed) (2014) Online Evaluation of Creativity and the Arts, London and New York: Routledge.
  • Kennedy, H. (2012) ‘Perspectives on sentiment analysis,’ Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56 (4): 435-450. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2012.732141
  • Kennedy, H. (2010) ‘The successful self-regulation of web designers’, Ephemera: theory and politics in organization, 10 (3-4), online,
  • Kennedy, H. (2010) ‘Net Work: the professionalisation of web design’, Media, Culture and Society, 32: 187-203.
  • Kennedy, H., Thomas, S. and Evans, S. (2010) ‘Can the web be accessible for people with intellectual disabilities?’, The Information Society, 27 (1): 29-39. doi: 10.1080/01972243.2011.534365. Reproduced in Herold, D.K., Sawney, H. and Fortunati, L. (eds) (2012) Understanding Creative Users of ICTs, Routledge.
  • Kennedy, H. (2009) ‘Going the extra mile: emotional and commercial imperatives in new media work’, Convergence: the international journal of research into new media, 15 (2): 177-196. doi: 10.1177/1354856508101582
  • Kennedy, H. (2008) ‘New media's potential for personalization’, Information Communication and Society, 11 (3): 307-325. doi: 10.1080/13691180802025293
  • Williams, P., Bunning, K. and Kennedy, H. (2006) ‘ICTs and learning disability: multidisciplinary perspectives on Project @pple’, Aslib Proceedings, 59 (1): 97-112. Awarded the Emerald LiteratiNetwork outstanding paper award, 2008. doi: 10.1108/00012530710725232
  • Kennedy, H. (2006) ‘Beyond anonymity, or future directions for Internet identity research,’ New Media and Society, 8 (6): 859-876. doi: 10.1177/1461444806069641. Reproduced in Thornham, S., Bassett, C. and Marris, P. (eds) (2009) Media Studies: A Reader, 3rd Edition, Sage Publications.
  • Kennedy, H. (2005) ‘Subjective intersections in the face of the machine: gender, race, class and PCs in the home’, European Journal of Women's Studies, 12 (4): 1350-1368. doi: 10.1177/1350506805057102
  • Kennedy, H. (2003) ‘Technobiography: researching lives, online and off’ in Biography: An International Quarterly, 26 (1): 120-139. Reproduced in Harrison, B. (ed) (2009) Life Story Research, in the Benchmarks in Social Research series, London: Sage.
  • Kennedy, H. (1999) ‘Identity construction in a virtual world: The homepage as auto/biographical practice’, Auto/biography, 7 (1-2): 91-98.

Edited Special Issues

  • Kennedy, H. and Bates, J. (in progress) ‘Data power in material contexts’, Television and New Media.
  • van Dijck, J., Poell, T. and Kennedy, H. (2015) ‘Data and Agency’, special issue of Big Data and Society, 2 (2).
  • Kennedy, H., Hearn, A. and Andrejevic, M. (2015) ‘Data Mining / Analytics’, special issue of The European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5).


  • Kennedy, H., M. Engebretsen, R.L. Hill, A. Kirk, W. Weber and W. Allen (2019) 'Data Visualisations: Newsroom Trends and Everyday Engagements' in J. Gray & L. Bounegru (eds) The Data Journalism Handbook 2: towards a critical data practice, available in online beta.
  • Kennedy, H and Allen, W (2017) ‘Data visualisation as an emerging tool for online research’, in N.G. Fielding, R.M. Lee and G. Blank (eds) The Sage Handbook of Online Research Methods, 2nd edition, London: Sage.
  • Kennedy H (2015) "Is Data Culture? Data analytics and the cultural industries", In: Oakely K; O'Connor J (eds) The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries. Routledge.
  • Kennedy H; Xia B (2014) “The role of Chinese Internet industry workers in creating alternative spaces”, In: Marolt P; Herold DK (eds.) Online China: locating society in online spaces. Routledge.
  • Kennedy H; Thomas S; Evans S (2009) “Inclusive New Media Design: The Place of Accessibility Guidelines in the Work of Web Designers”, In: Designing for the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Methods and Findings. Gower Publishing.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L (2008) “Lessons from web accessibility and intellectual disability”, In: Leung L (eds.) Digital Experience Design. intellect books.
  • Kennedy H; Hen; Henwood F; Hughes G; Miller N; Wyatt S (2001) “Cyborg Lives in Context: writing women's technobiographies”, In: Henwood F; Kennedy H; eds NM (eds.) Cyborg Lives? Women's Technobiographies. Raw Nerve Books, York University.
  • Kennedy H (2001) “HMTK meets HTML: from technofraud to cyberchick”, In: Henwood F; Kennedy H; eds NM (eds.) Cyborg Lives? Women's Technobiographies. Raw Nerve Books, York University.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L; Miller N (2000) “Tending the tamagotchi: rhetoric and reality in the use of new technologies for distance learning”, In: Wyatt S; Henwood F; Miller N; Senker P (eds.) Technology and In/Equality: Questioning the Information Society. Routledge.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L; Poynter G (2000) “Shipping in and shaping up? Profiling company employment patterns in London's Docklands and inner east London”, In: Eastern Promise: Education and Social Renewal in London's Docklands.
  • Kennedy H; Leung L; Miller N (2000) “Project @THENE: widening access in virtual learning communities”, In: Butler T (eds.) Eastern Promise: Education and Social Renewal in London's Docklands.


  • Kennedy H; Evans S; Thomas S; Staples P; 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. International Institute of Infonomics.
  • Kennedy H (1998) Return to Learn: UNISON’s fresh approach to trade union education. UNISON.