Professor Helsper focuses on developing approaches to quantitative and qualitative research in relation to media and everyday life with a special interest in the links between social and digital inequalities, media literacy and interpersonal interactions in digital spaces.
Her main research interest is in the role of digital media in everyday life of disadvantaged social groups and vulnerable individuals. An important element is the continued development of a theoretical framework to understand the links between digital and social exclusion based on theories of socio-cultural capital and social identity and psychological vulnerability. Her work has developed from theorising the multiple barriers to digital engagement to understanding what explains the differences in tangible benefits people get from engaging with digital content. Her current interest is in developing theories and methodologies that incorporate an individual’s position within social environments and their physical, digital environments in which people live and grow up in our understanding of digital (dis)engagement. This work is backed up by analysis of international datasets which have comparable data in this area generated as part of the From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes (DiSTO) project. Cross-cultural comparisons of the processes that lead to engagement and to mediation of our everyday life, pose interesting questions about the generalisability of research in different socio-cultural contexts and the ways in which local circumstances and phenomena can explain global trends in socio-digital inequalities. This work has also informed cross-national projects that look at these processes amongst youth, such as the Yskills, Global Kids Online and EU Kids Online projects.
Furthermore, she has a special interest in the development of methodology in relation to media and policy research, especially in methodologies related to the measurement and understanding of social impact and audience engagement. Important to her in this context is an understanding of engagement with media as multifaceted (for example incl. entertainment, communication and learning) and contextualised in everyday realities. This contextual and gradated approach to media engagement brings up difficulties for generalised policy and mono-methodological approaches.
Regarding future research she is interested in working further on the issue of the role of digital media in people's everyday social and personal relationships especially amongst mobile populations. This includes the relationship of mediated communication to social and psychological well-being and the cross cultural similarities and differences in the processes that make people lead 'digital' or 'non-digital' lives. The theoretical and empirical complications in disentangling forced exclusion and choice in these matters is what fascinates her most.