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Sociology Research


Dr Ella McPherson is Associate Professor in Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology as well as the Anthony L. Lyster Fellow in Sociology at Queens’ College. She is also Co-Director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, where she leads the research theme on human rights in the digital age. At the Department of Sociology, Ella is Director of Undergraduate Education and Coordinator of the MPhil Pathway in Media and Culture. 

Previously, Ella was a Junior Research Fellow in Sociology at Wolfson College and an LSE Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science's Department of Media and Communications. She earned her PhD from Cambridge's Department of Sociology, funded by the Gates Cambridge Trust and an Overseas Research Scholarship. Her MPhil was in Latin American Studies at Cambridge and her BA was from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Ella is on the Executive Committee of Cambridge’s Trust and Technology Initiative and leads The Whistle, an academic startup, funded by the ESRC and an EU Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 grant, that aims to support the collection and verification of digital human rights evidence. 

Research Interests

Ella’s research focuses on symbolic struggles surrounding the media in times of transition, whether democratic or digital. She is particularly interested in the implication of these struggles for the formation, evaluation and contestation of truth-claims.  Her current research examines the potential of using social media by human rights NGOs for generating governmental accountability. This involves understanding the methodological and reputational implications of using social media and related networks as data sources and dissemination tools, as well as social media's effects on pluralism in human rights discourse and on solidarity in human rights practice.

Ella’s previous research, drawing on her media ethnography of human rights reporting at Mexican newspapers, identified the contest for public credibility between state, media, and human rights actors as a significant driver of human rights coverage. 



SOC3: Modern Societies II: Global Social Problems and Dynamics of Resistance

SOC7: Media, Culture and Society (paper organiser)

MPhil in Media and Culture (pathway coordinator)

Graduate supervision availability and interests:

Ella is available to supervise PhD and MPhil students in the areas of digital/media sociology and the sociology of human rights.

Current Doctoral Students:

Richard Dent

Rebekah Larsen

Saide Mobayed

Ayala Panievsky

Rodrigo Arteaga Rojas

Consuelo Saizar

Xiaokun Sun

Ruichen Zheng

Key Publications - Book Chapters

McPherson, E., I. Guenette Thornton and M. Mahmoudi.  2020.  Open Source Investigations and the Technology-Driven Knowledge Controversy in Human Rights Fact-Finding. In A. Koenig, S. Dubberley and D. Murray, eds. Digital Witness: Using Open Source Information for Human Rights Investigation, Documentation and Accountability, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

McPherson, E.  2018. Risk and the Pluralism of Digital Human Rights Fact-Finding and Advocacy. In M. Land and J. Aronson, eds.  Human Rights and New Technologies: Power, Participation and Peril. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McPherson, E 2017. Social Media and Human Rights Advocacy. In H. Tumber and S. Waisbord, eds. The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights, London, UK: Routledge, pp. 279-288.

McPherson, E. and T. Probert.  2017. Special Procedures in the Digital Age.  In A. Nolan, R. Freedman & T. Murphy, eds. The United Nations Special Procedures System. Boston, MA: Brill, pp. 261-270.

Key Publications - Journal Articles

Key Publications - Other

McPherson, E., 2015. ICTs and Human Rights Practice: A Report Prepared for the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights.

Grants and Projects

McPherson, E. (PI) Ethics and governance of autonomous systems and machine learning in the digital society. Humanities and Sociology Sciences (HSS) School Research Fund (2016-2018): £39,282

McPherson, E. (PI) and Moreno Figueroa, M. (CI) ChainReact”: Making Supplier Networks Transparent, Understandable and Responsive. Horizon 2020 ICT Call 10–2015, Research and Innovation Action (2017-19): €2.5m, £333,000 (Cambridge)

McPherson, E. (PI) Social Media, Human Rights NGOs, and the Potential for Governmental Accountability. ESRC Future Research Leader grant and Isaac Newton Trust grant (2014-17): £254,310

McPherson, E. Lead Researcher (2015), ‘The Whistle: A Digital Platform for Citizen Witnesses of Human Rights Violations,’ Impact Acceleration Account, University of Cambridge (£10,800)

McPherson, E. Collaborator (2010-11), ‘Understanding the Dynamics of Urban Flexibility and Reconstruction,’ Research Award from the Future of Cities Programme at the University of Oxford, (£45,000)

Research Groups & Affiliations

Job Title:
Associate Professor in Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology, Anthony L. Lyster Fellow of Queens' College, Co-Director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights
Dr Ella McPherson