Laura J. Miller

Laura Miller

Department Chair
Professor of Sociology

Laura J. Miller joined Brandeis in 2002, having previously taught at the University of Western Ontario and Vassar College. She teaches courses in the sociology of culture, the mass media, food studies, and urban sociology.

Her research focuses on the intersection of cultural and economic factors within industries characterized by moral commitments to their products.

Miller's most recent book, Building Nature's Market: The Business and Politics of Natural Foods (University of Chicago Press, 2017), won the 2018 American Sociological Association Section on Consumers and Consumption Distinguished Book Award. Drawing on interviews and archival research, the book provides a history of the American natural and health foods industry and its leadership in the social movement oriented to spreading a natural foods way of life. The book argues that rather than acting as a singularly deradicalizing force, private industry can promote radical cultural change at the same time as it upholds a conventional economic framework for the production and distribution of consumer goods.

Her 2006 book, Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption (University of Chicago Press), received the American Sociological Association Section on the Sociology of Culture Book Award in 2007. That work looked at the conflict between chain and independent booksellers as a way to examine, first, the clash between widespread cultural meanings attached to books and the economic requirements of successfully competing in any business, including bookselling, and second, how business practices reflect and create particular cultural models of consumption.

Miller's current research project examines the publishing history of vegetarian cookbooks in the United States in order to trace changing meanings attached to a vegetarian way of life and the advocacy of vegetarianism.


Selected Publications


“Relevance without Resonance: One-Dimensional Critique Today.” (Radical Philosophy Review, 2017) 

“By the Pinch and the Pound: Less and More Protest in American Vegetarian Cookbooks from the Nineteenth Century to the Present” (with Emilie Hardman). In Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Culture of Dissent since 1865, edited by James L. Baughman, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, and James P. Danky. (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015)

"Whither the Professional Book Publisher in an Era of Distribution on Demand.  In Blackwell’s International Companion to Media Studies: Production, edited by Vicki Mayer. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming)

"Perpetual Turmoil: Book Retailing in the Twenty-First Century United States." (Logos: Journal of the World Publishing Community, 2011)

"Selling the Product." In A History of the Book in America, Volume 5: The Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America, edited by David Paul Nord, Joan Shelley Rubin, and Michael Schudson. (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

"Saving Books from the Market: Price Maintenance Policies in the United States and Europe." In Citizenship and Participation in the Information Age, edited by Manjunath Pendakur and Roma Harris (Garamond Press, 2002)

"The Best-Seller List as Marketing Tool and Historical Fiction." (Book History, 2000)

"Shopping for Community: The Transformation of the Bookstore Into a Vital Community Institution." (Media, Culture and Society, 1999)

"Family Togetherness and the Suburban Ideal." (Sociological Forum, 1995)