University of Arizona sociologist Jennifer Carlson has been awarded a prestigious 2022 MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of her work examining gun politics, culture and trauma in the United States. Carlson, an associate professor in the School of Sociology and the School of Government and Public Policy in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, has spent over a decade examining the politics of guns in American life. Through research with gun owners, gun sellers, law enforcement, gun violence survivors and state licensing bodies, Carlson investigates the forces that shape gun culture in the United States.
Read the full interview here.
This award is often referred to as the ‘Genius Grant’. How do you define genius, as it relates to your field?
Gun politics is a very divisive topic—and it’s an issue that often appears to have two, clear-cut sides that leave little room for consensus or even seeing the issue from the other side’s perspective. In this context, while I’m not sure it counts as “genius” in itself, I think part of why I received this Fellowship is because I’ve tried to break that stalemate—whether by rethinking the terms of the gun debate, shifting attention to under-appreciated dimensions of how guns matter in US society, or unearthing opportunities for connection and even consensus.
What was the catalyst for your field of research- what inspired you to study gun culture in America?
I started paying attention to the politics of gun rights with the first election of President Obama—that was the first time, in my adult life, that I started really hearing about surges in the purchasing of guns and ammunition in anticipation of a presidential election. Around that time, I began to look at how sociologists had studied US gun culture—and I was frankly shocked at just how little sociologists had paid attention to this massive phenomenon in US society. That’s when I began my now decade-plus research trajectory into the significance of guns in US society.
How does it feel knowing that your colleagues respect your research in this way, to nominate you for this prestigious award?
The process that goes into this award is pretty staggering! From what I understand of it, I have many colleagues to thank who were willing to take the time to nominate my work for consideration or provide their assessment of my work and its merit. I can’t thank them, though, because the process is secretive, so I’ll just say that I’m absolutely full of gratitude—and receiving that kind of support is both incredible and overwhelming.