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Institute for Advancing American Values announces faculty research awards

The Institute for Advancing American Values announced their first faculty research awards. Funds have been granted for Alessandro Meregaglia, Dalten Fox, Ginna Husting and Marty Orr to pursue their work after a competitive selection process, the institute said. Another call for proposals will be issued in 2022-2023. Continue reading to learn more about the recipients and their work.

Alessandro Meregaglia, assistant professor, Albertsons Library

In 1907, James H. Gipson founded Caxton Printers in Caldwell, Idaho, on the principle of “recognizing struggling writers” who deserved to be published—even if his company made little or no profit.

Gipson lived this philosophy by publishing hundreds of books that wouldn’t have otherwise appeared in print: Caxton published the first book by a Japanese American author, Toshio Mori; Gipson defended the freedom of expression of Samuel Steward, a Washington State professor who was fired after Caxton published his “racy” book; and Caxton published the then-famous novelist Vardis Fisher when East Coast firms rejected Fisher’s latest novel for being “too sexual.” Gipson even defended Ezra Pound’s freedom of speech when Pound was incarcerated for treason.

Gipson’s strong belief in freedom and democracy led him to start publishing political books. Caxton’s popular “Libertarian Library” became nationally known. Among others, Caxton published books by three influential libertarian women: Ayn Rand, Isabel Paterson, and Rose Wilder Lane. Caxton also published Earl Wayland Bown, Idaho’s first socialist party state legislator.

Meregaglia will examine Gipson’s values, how he defined them, and identify the enduring impact Caxton Printers has had on Idaho and the nation.

Dalten Fox, graduate student, public policy

The Owyhee Initiative is a collective of stakeholders deemed by other scholars as an “unlikely alliance” due to its longstanding ability to work towards mutually beneficial natural resource policy improvements despite the diversity of stakeholders coming from historically opposed factions of people (Hillis et al. 2020). Ranchers, tribal nations, elected officials from all levels, environmentalists, and recreational groups banded together in Owyhee County, Idaho in the 2000s to collaboratively work towards improved policies regarding the thousands of acres of public lands within the region. Past accomplishments include improved planning, regulation, and enforcement of motor recreation in Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystem Areas, implementation of the Conservation and Research Center within Owyhee County, and recognition by Senator Mike Crapo in his passage of the ‘Owyhee Initiative Legislation’ as part of an Omnibus Lands package passed in 2009.

To better understand the variables at-play within the Owyhee Initiative, I plan to conduct a qualitative research project utilizing the Advocacy Coalition Framework to better understand the value systems of the stakeholders at individual and group levels. The Advocacy Coalition Framework allows researchers to understand value and belief systems of actors in policy subsystems, how those beliefs impact coalition/alliance formation, and how those groups can impact policy within the subsystem (in this case, natural resource policy). I plan to use in-person interview, document and archival analysis, and site visits throughout Owyhee County to better understand the values, alliance, and policy impact systems at-play with a goal of understanding the context of the Owyhee Initiative, specifically, and developing theory as to how bipartisan work to achieve mutually beneficial public policy outcomes can happen elsewhere and in different contexts.

Professors Ginna Husting and Marty Orr, sociology

Conspiracy and conspiracy theory are linked to core values and fears in American culture (corruption, democracy, power, inequality). They are lenses through which we give meaning to the world; they are ways of explaining our history, our lives, our communities, and our hopes for a better future.

But few have listened to Americans’ stories and concerns about conspiracy from “the ground up.” Instead, we tend to impose definitions and assumptions on those we study. Qualitative research can help make clearer sense of this highly polarized landscape where conspiracy claims are deeply interwoven with disinformation, economic uncertainty, fears of instability, and loss.

Here we propose to convene eight focus groups (rural and urban) to explore people’s stories, beliefs, and concerns around conspiracy and collusion. Based on our prior research, we will focus both on general questions about power, elites, cover-ups, and more specific questions about the label and the activity of conspiracy theorizing. In this way we expect not only to advance the academic debate, but to encourage the mutual understandings necessary for a vibrant democracy.