Skip to main content

Laura Beth Nielsen

Professor of Sociology

Area(s) of Interest

Sociology of Law, Inequality, Gender, Race

Relevant Link

American Bar Foundation

Center for Legal Studies


Laura Beth Nielsen is a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation as well as a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Legal Studies at Northwestern University. She is a sociologist and lawyer with degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Nielsen’s research focuses on law’s capacity for social change.  Her primary field is the sociology of law, with particular interests in legal consciousness (how ordinary people understand the law) and the relationship between law and inequalities of race, gender, and class. Her first monograph, License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and Offensive Public Speech, (Princeton University Press, 2004) studies racist and sexist street speech, targets’ reactions and responses to it, and attitudes about using law to deal with such speech.

In addition, she is the author of numerous articles published in the UCLA Law Review, Law and Society Review, Law and Social Inquiry, Law and Policy, Stanford Journal of Law and Policy, and the Wisconsin Law Review.  She is also the recipient of grants and awards from the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and the MacArthur Foundation.

Professor Nielsen is an expert in the areas of sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond, employment civil rights of all sorts including pregnancy, pay, race, sex, national origin, and is a scholar of the legal profession.

Courses Taught

SOCIOL 206: Law and Society Syllabus


Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality
(with Ellen C. Berrey and Robert L. Nelson), University of Chicago Press, 2017
* Honorable Mention, Best Book 2018, American Sociological Association Sociology of Law Section

Theoretical and Empirical Studies of Rights
Ashgate, 2007

Handbook of Employment Discrimination Research: Rights and Realities
(with Robert L. Nelson), Springer, 2005

New Civil Rights Research: A Constitutive Approach
(with Fleury-Steiner), Ashgate, 2006


The Exonerating guise of Brotherhood: Fraternities and the Normalization of Intra-Fraternal Sexual Violence
(with David Fishman and Sino Esthappan), Men and Masculinities, 2022

Misunderstanding Law: Title IX Policy, Managerialized Rights, and Undergraduate Understanding
(with Kat Albrecht and Lydia Wuorinen) Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 2022

Hierarchies of Deservingness: Decisions about Workplace Accommodation by Judges and Citizens
(with Jill D. Weinberg), Law & Policy, 2019

Social Movements, Social Processes: A Response to Gerald Rosenberg
Law Review, 2009

Diverging Paths: Changing Conceptions of Employment Discrimination in Law and the Social Sciences
(with Robert L. Nelson and Ellen C. Berrey), Law and Social Science, 2008

Consent to Sex: The Liberal Paradigm Reformulated
(with Arthur Stinchcombe), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2008