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Daniel Miller (born 1954) is an anthropologist most closely associated with studies of our relationships to things and the consequences of consumption. His theoretical work was first developed in Material Culture and Mass Consumption and is summarised more recently in his book Stuff. This is concerned to transcend the usual dualism between subject and object and to study how social relations are created through consumption as an activity. More recently as the founder of the digital anthropology programme at University College London (UCL), and the director the Why We Post and ASSA projects he has pioneered the study of digital anthropology and especially ethnographic research on the use and consequences of social media and smartphones as part of the everyday life of ordinary people around the world.


Miller was originally trained in archaeology and anthropology at the University of Cambridge but has spent his entire professional life at the Department of Anthropology at the University College London, which has become a research center for the study of material culture and where more recently, he established the world's first programme dedicated to the study of digital anthropology.

Anthropological positionEdit

A prolific author, Miller criticises the concept of materialism which presumes our relationships to things are at the expense of our relationship to persons. He argues that most people are either enabled to form close relationships to both persons and objects or have difficulties with both.

With Miller's students he has applied these ideas to many genres of material culture such as clothing, homes, media and the car, through research based on the methods of traditional anthropological ethnography in regions including the Caribbean, India and London. In the study of clothing, his work ranges from a book on the Sari in India to more recent research explaining the popularity of blue jeans and the way they exemplify the struggle to become ordinary. His initial work on the consequences of the internet for Trinidad was followed by studies of the impact of mobile phones on poverty in Jamaica and more recently the way Facebook has changed the nature of social relationships.

Miller's work on material culture also includes ethnographic research on how people develop relationships of love and care through the acquisition of objects in shopping and how they deal with issues of separation and loss including death through their retention and divestment of objects. He argues that since we cannot control death as an event, we use our ability to control the gradual separation from the objects associated with the deceased as a way of dealing with loss. Complementary to this work on separation from things are three books about shopping, the most influential of which, A Theory of Shopping, looks at how the study of everyday purchases can be a route to understanding how love operates within the family. He has also carried out several projects on female domestic labour and being a mother, including studies of au pairs, and Filipina women in London and their relationship to their left behind children in the Philippines. Most of these projects are collaborations.

Since the early 2000s, Miller has been researching the effects of new social media on society. Several of his most recent books explore topics such as cell phones,[1] Facebook[2] and transnational families.[3] Together with presenting a theoretical framework for studying social networking sites,[4] his latest work has proposed a new concept of 'polymedia'[5] as an analytical tool to examine the consequences of a situation where individuals configure and are held responsible for their choice of media, while access and cost recede as factors.

In 2009, Miller created a new masters programme in Digital anthropology at the Anthropology Department of University College London.

In 2012 Miller launched a five-year project called Social Networking and Social Sciences Research Project, to examine the global impact of new social media. The study was based on ethnographic data collected through the course of 15 months in China, India, Turkey, Italy, United Kingdom, Trinidad, Chile and Brazil. The project was funded by the European Research Council. The results of this project were released in February 2016 under the title "Why We Post". The project published eleven Open Access volumes with UCL Press which, by August 2018, have been downloaded more than 500,000 times[6]. The Why We Post monographs are currently also being published in the languages of their respective fieldsites. In addition, a free online course (MOOC) is available on FutureLearn. The course is also available in Chinese, Portuguese, Hindi, Tamil, Italian, Turkish, and Spanish on UCLeXtend. In addition a website containing key discoveries, stories and over 100 films is available in the same 8 languages.

In 2017 Miller launched a second five-year project The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing which consists of ten simultaneous ethnographies in Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, Japan, East Jerusalem, Ireland, Italy and Uganda. This project investigates the impact of smartphones on the way people in mid-life deal with issues of health and wellbeing, and explores the potential of anthropology for making mobile health applications more sensitive to social and cultural contexts.

Major worksEdit

  • (1984) Miller, D. and Tilley, C. (Eds.) Ideology, Power and Prehistory. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • (1985) Artefacts As Categories: A study of Ceramic Variability in Central India. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • (1987) Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Basil Blackwell: Oxford.
  • (1989) Miller, D., Rowlands, M. and Tilley, C. Eds. Domination and Resistance. Unwin Hyman: London.
  • (1993) (Ed.) Unwrapping Christmas. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • (1994) Modernity – An Ethnographic Approach: Dualism and mass consumption in Trinidad. Berg: Oxford.
  • (1995) (Ed.) Acknowledging Consumption. Routledge. London.
  • (1995) (Ed.) Worlds Apart – Modernity Through the Prism of the Local. Routledge: London.
  • (1997) Capitalism – An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.
  • (1998) (Ed.) Material Cultures. London: UCL Press/University of Chicago Press.
  • (1998) A Theory of Shopping. Cambridge: Polity Press/Cornell University Press.
  • (1998) With P. Jackson, M. N. Thrift B. Holbrook and N. Thrift. Shopping, Place and Identity. London: Routledge.
  • (1998) With J. Carrier. Virtualism: a new political economy. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2000) With D. Slater The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford:Berg.
  • (2000) With P. Jackson, M. Lowe and F. Mort (Eds.) Commercial Cultures: economies, practices, spaces. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2001) The Dialectics of Shopping (The 1998 Morgan Lectures) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • (2001) (Ed.) Car Cultures. Oxford: Oxford: Berg.
  • (2001) (Ed.) Acknowledging Consumption (four volumes) London: Routledge.
  • (2001) (Ed.) Home Possession: Material culture behind closed doors. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2003) With Mukulika Banerjee. The Sari. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2005) (Ed.) with Suzanne Küchler. Clothing as Material Culture. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2005) (Ed.) Materiality. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • (2006) With Heather Horst. The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2008) The Comfort of Things. Polity: Cambridge.
  • (2009) (Ed.) Anthropology and the Individual: a material culture perspective. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2010) Stuff. Cambridge: Polity.
  • (2010) With Zuzana Búriková. Au-Pair. Cambridge: Polity.
  • (2011) With Sophie Woodward (Eds.) Global Denim. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2011) Tales from Facebook. Cambridge: Polity.
  • (2011) With Sophie Woodward. Blue Jeans: The art of the ordinary. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • (2011) Weihnachten – Das globale Fest (in German) Suhrkamp.
  • (2012) With Mirca Madianou. Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia. London: Routledge.
  • (2012) Consumption and its Consequences. Cambridge: Polity.
  • (2012) Edited with Heather Horst. Digital Anthropology. Oxford: Berg.
  • (2014) With Jolynna Sinanan. Webcam. Cambridge: Polity.
  • (2016) Social Media in an English Village. London: UCL Press
  • (2016) With Elisabetta Costa; Nell Haynes; Tom McDonald; ; Razvan Nicolescu; Jolynna Sinanan; Juliano Spyer; Shriram Venkatraman and Xinyuan Wang How the World Changed Social Media. London: UCL Press.
  • (2017) With Jolynna Sinanan. Visualising Facebook. London: UCL Press.
  • (2017) The Comfort of People. Cambridge, Polity.

Further readingEdit


  1. ^ Miller, Daniel and Horst, H. (2006). The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication. Oxford: Berg.
  2. ^ Miller, Daniel. (2011). Tales from Facebook. Cambridge: Polity.
  3. ^ Miller, Daniel and Madianou, M. (2012). Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia. London: Routledge.
  4. ^ Miller, Daniel and Horst, H. Editors (2012) Digital Anthropology. Oxford: Berg.
  5. ^ Miller, Daniel (2013). DR 2: What is the relationship between identities that people construct, express and consume online and those offline? in Future Identities: Changing identities in the UK – the next 10 years. Foresight, p.6.
  6. ^ Source: UCL Press

External linksEdit