Communities of gun owners may be reshaping democracy, according to ongoing ethnographic research conducted at The University of Texas at Austin by sociologist Harel Shapira, one of 33 scholars nationwide to receive the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.
Each year, the Carnegie Corporation of New York awards fellows with up to $200,000 for scholarly research and writing aimed at addressing some of the world’s most urgent challenges to democracy and international order. Shapira, assistant professor of sociology, was awarded for his research proposal, “The right to kill: Guns, justifiable homicide and the future of American Democracy.”
“It’s a tremendous honor. The most valuable thing you can give a researcher is time to do research and write,” Shapira said. “It provides me with a sense that people care about this topic and that people want me to do this kind of research.”
His research, which will culminate in a book, focuses on guns and gun ownership and explores the ideas, lifestyles and experiences of people in gun-owning communities. Shapira began his research in gun schools, which he regards as educational entities that socialize people in gun culture.
Shapira’s work investigates what drives people to join gun-owning communities and what this means for democracy. The communities, Shapira observes, not only shape and transform individuals drawn to gun culture but also society at large.
“We are seeing individuals taking on the roles of government when it comes to self-defense and issues of enforcement of the law,” Shapira said. “What might this mean for democracy and democratic institutions? What does an armed society hold for the future of America’s democracy?”
This year’s Carnegie Fellows were selected by a distinguished panel of 16 jurors, including heads of the country’s premier scholarly institutions and presidents of leading universities and foundations, from hundreds of nominations made by leaders from universities, think tanks, publishers and nonprofit organizations nationwide. Awards totaled $6.6 million.
“Our founder, Andrew Carnegie, charged Carnegie Corporation with the task of creating, advancing and diffusing knowledge in order to enlighten American society and strengthen our democracy. This outstanding new cohort of 33 Carnegie Fellows is a result of that mandate,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Previous Carnegie fellows from the UT Austin College of Liberal Arts include history professor Denise Spellberg (2009) and history alumnus Greg Cushman (2015).