ESRC Digital Good Network


Q&A with our new digital wellness and disinformation postdoc, Isabelle Higgins

Hear more from Isabelle Higgins, the new ESRC Digital Good Network Postdoctoral Researcher on Digital Wellness and Disinformation. Published 15 August 2023.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your work?

A: I’m a digital sociologist interested in thinking about the internet as a place where structural relations of power and inequality can be expressed and challenged. I’m particularly passionate about thinking through these questions in relation to the lives of children and young people, who might not always understand or be able to consent to how their data is being used, and potentially misused, online.

I draw primarily on work in the sociology of ‘race’ and racism and decolonial thought. I’m very interested in exploring the contingent histories of present-day inequalities, connecting people’s everyday digital practices to a wider context of coloniality. I’m also committed to reflexive and interdisciplinary mixed-methods approaches, primarily using digital ethnography as a research method.

My PhD, for example, examined how internet use is affecting transracial and transnational adoption in the USA. I drew attention to the inequalities that are reproduced through online ‘adoption advocacy’ practices that classify and make visible children in institutional and state care.

Q: What are you looking forward to in your postdoctoral position?

A: I’m a postdoc for the Digital Good Network for one year, supporting the DGN’s mission for community mentoring and original research that explores different understandings of ‘the digital good’. Partnering with Dr Jonathan Corpus Ong at UMass Amherst, the project will focus on complicating commonly held understandings of the digital ‘rabbit holes’ that connect digital wellness, conspiracy theories and far-right ideologies. By using ethnographic methods and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders from different communities, the project will think through the nuance, complexity and intersectional realities that shape online everyday practice in digital wellness spaces.

The project will situate these questions in a context of racial injustice, the climate emergency and repeated challenges to democratic systems, with a specific focus on the 2024 US election cycle. In this context, it will aim to do connective, future-oriented work with stakeholders across disciplines, industries and communities, using the DGN’s core values of equity, sustainability and resilience to explore how digital wellness spaces can be differently conceived of and understood. 

The project is still in its early stages, but we are already seeing links in terms of  reflexive approaches to media research in a context of social crisis, and a commitment to exploring the connections between digital research and social action.

More broadly, I’m also looking forward to getting to know the Digital Good Network team and learn more about the amazing range of research being done. Attending the Digital Good Network summer school was a great opportunity to learn about fascinating research projects being done by postgraduate students, and Łukasz Szulc’s keynote on manifestos helped me think about the purpose of academic knowledge production in relation to social justice movements. I’m so excited about what this next year will bring!

About the author:

Ihiggins Headshot 2023

Isabelle Higgins is a postdoctoral researcher in Digital Wellness and Disinformation for the Digital Good Network. She works with Dr Jonathan Corpus Ong on research that complicates commonly held understandings of the digital ‘rabbit holes’ that connect digital wellness, conspiracy theories and far-right ideologies.