Curiosity Studies

A New Ecology of Knowledge

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Perry Zurn
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Arjun Shankar

From science and technology to business and education, curiosity is often taken for granted as an unquestioned good. And yet, few people can define curiosity. Curiosity Studies marshals scholars from more than a dozen fields not only to define curiosity but also to grapple with its ethics as well as its role in technological advancement and global citizenship. While intriguing research on curiosity has occurred in numerous disciplines for decades, no rigorously cross-disciplinary study has existed—until now.

Curiosity Studies stages an interdisciplinary conversation about what curiosity is and what resources it holds for human and ecological flourishing. These engaging essays are integrated into four clusters: scientific inquiry, educational practice, social relations, and transformative power. By exploring curiosity through the practice of scientific inquiry, the contours of human learning, the stakes of social difference, and the potential of radical imagination, these clusters focus and reinvigorate the study of this universal but slippery phenomenon: the desire to know.

Against the assumption that curiosity is neutral, this volume insists that curiosity has a history and a political import and requires precision to define and operationalize. As various fields deepen its analysis, a new ecosystem for knowledge production can flourish, driven by real-world problems and a commitment to solve them in collaboration. By paying particular attention to pedagogy throughout, Curiosity Studies equips us to live critically and creatively in what might be called our new Age of Curiosity.

Background photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash.

Curiosity on Manifold

Welcome to Curiosity Studies on the Manifold platform! At its best, curiosity is a practice of exploration. Whether pursued independently or in community, curiosity is an open-ended, often unstructured activity. It is our hope that this site provides you with the tools to navigate Curiosity Studies curiously. Read the book frontwards, backwards, and sideways. The entire text is open access and assistive device friendly. Dive down rabbit holes by clicking on media supplements in the margins. Get acquainted with our authors by perusing the “Contributor Profiles.” There, you'll find extended bios, pedagogical ideas, and additional resources (e.g., curiosity-related videos, interviews, articles, and books). Special thanks to Lynn Borton, Executive Producer of the Choose to be Curious podcast, for dedicating a 12-episode series to our contributors. Ultimately, Curiosity Studies itself is a living project. Stay tuned for future expansions in content, as well as online community features and crowd-sourcing initiatives. We are excited to serve as a hub for future work in #curiositystudies.

Recent Activity

  • If you missed it yesterday, check out the recording of the #CuriosityStudies book launch at Georgetown's… https://t.co/EVSFn5lu8g

  • Interested in more ⁦@arjshankar⁩ on curiosity after ⁦@MortaraCenter⁩ panel on #curiositystudies? Capitalist Curios… https://t.co/9fcdFpICOr

  • Interested in more @perryzurn on curiosity after ⁦@MortaraCenter⁩ panel on #curiositystudies? ⁦⁩ Curiosity Studies:… https://t.co/rkt55KBwD3

  • Interested in more on curiosity after ⁦@MortaraCenter⁩ panel on #curiositystudies? Curious Entanglements, with Chri… https://t.co/cpK2GwXtPl

  • “What might it be if language didn’t sediment our position and where we are with learning?” - Christina Leon Wow.… https://t.co/eFhNW1N2ci

  • Thrilled to be speaking this Thursday 12pm @MortaraCenter, Georgetown, about #curiositystudies (recently released b… https://t.co/oDRD2Y3xk7

Contributor Profiles

Featured below are in-depth profiles for each of the volume contributors. Click on their names to learn more about their research and ways to engage their work in the classroom.

  • Danielle S. Bassett

    Danielle S. Bassett is the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with affiliations in the Departments of Bioengineering, Physics & Astronomy, Electrical & Systems Engineering, Neurology, and Psychiatry. She is also an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

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  • Barbara M. Benedict

    Barbara M. Benedict earned her BA in History and Literature at Harvard University in 1976 and her PhD. in English at UC Berkeley in 1984. She holds the Charles A. Dana Chair of English at Trinity College, CT, where she has taught since 1984.

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  • Lynn Borton

    Lynn Borton is producer and host of Choose to be Curious a radio show on WERA-LP 96.7 FM in Arlington, Virginia. She was recently honored by Arlington Magazine as a 2020 Editor’s Pick for “Best Local Podcast.”

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  • Susan Engel

    Susan Engel is Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Founding Director of the Program in Teaching at Williams College. She specializes in the development of curiosity, children’s narratives, play, and more generally, teaching and learning.

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  • Ellen K. Feder

    Ellen K. Feder s the William Fraser McDowell Professor of Philosophy and Social Policy. She works at the intersection of contemporary continental philosophy and feminist and critical race theory, particularly as these relate to matters of social policy.

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  • Pam Grossman

    Pam Grossman is the Dean of the Graduate School of Education and the George and Diane Weiss Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Grossman’s research focuses on the preparation of teachers and other professionals and issues of instructional quality, particularly in English Language Arts.

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  • John L. Jackson Jr.

    John L. Jackson Jr. is the Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Richard Perry University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He was previously Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice and Special Adviser to the Provost on Diversity at Penn.

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  • Kristy Johnson

    Kristy Johnson is a PhD candidate in the Affective Computing group at MIT, where she works at the intersection of neuroscience, engineering, and autism. Her research focuses on science and technology to improve the lives of individuals with complex neurodevelopmental differences, especially those with nonverbal autism and intellectual disabilities.

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  • Narendra Keval

    Narendra Keval is a Psychoanalyst, Adult and Adolescent Psychotherapist, and Consultant Clinical Psychologist. He worked as a senior clinician with patients suffering from complex personality disorders in a range of NHS settings and consulted to organizations in both the public and corporate sector on issues of suicidal risk.

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  • Christina León

    Christina León is Assistant Professor of English at Princeton University where she focuses on Latinx, Caribbean, and hemispheric literatures, in addition to critical engagements with feminist theory, queer theory, and performance studies.

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  • Tyson E. Lewis

    Tyson E. Lewis is a professor of art education in the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas. His research interests include educational philosophy, critical theory, phenomenological research methods, and aesthetics.

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  • Amy Marvin

    Amy Marvin is an independent scholar located just outside of Philadelphia. She received a PhD in Philosophy from University of Oregon in 2019, where she was a main co-organizer for the first conference on trans philosophy and taught several courses on Trans Studies, Trans Literature, and Trans Philosophy.

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  • Helga Nowotny

    Helga Nowotny is professor emerita in the Department of Social Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) and the President of the European Research Council. Nowotny researches primarily in science and technology studies.

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  • Hilary Schor

    Hilary Schor is professor in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. She studies contemporary fiction, feminist theory, and the widest possible range of Victorian literature, from serial fiction, narrative poetry, art criticism, proto-sociology, and urban history.

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  • Arjun Shankar

    Arjun Shankar is an incoming Assistant Professor of Culture and Politics in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His research draws from theories in globalization and development, digital and visual ethnography, critical race and postcolonial theory, and curiosity studies, with a focus on poverty alleviation efforts and the help economy in India.

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  • Seeta Sistla

    Seeta Sistla is assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Cal Poly. Sistla’s work—which combines biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, mechanistic modeling, and field studies—focuses on how soils, plants, and microbial communities respond to environmental change and how these changes can feedback to affect larger-scale ecosystem processes.

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  • Heather Anne Swanson

    Heather Anne Swanson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, where she also co-directs the university’s Centre for Environmental Humanities. For decades, Swanson has been intensely curious about Pacific salmon, especially and intersection of salmon and human worlds in Japan and the United States.

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  • Perry Zurn

    Perry Zurn is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at American University. He researches in political philosophy, gender theory, and applied ethics. Zurn is the author of Curiosity and Power: The Politics of Inquiry (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming) and the co-author of Curious Minds (MIT Press, under contract).

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Metadata

  • rights
    The University of Minnesota Press gratefully acknowledges support for the open-access version of this book from American University Library, Colgate University, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Philosophical Association.

    “Self-portrait as a Karen” is reprinted from Kay Gabriel, Elegy Department Spring (BOAAT Press, 2017) by permission of the poet.

    Copyright 2020 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • isbn
    978-1-4529-6268-9
  • publisher
    University of Minnesota Press
  • publisher place
    Minneapolis, MN
  • restrictions
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
  • rights holder
    Regents of the University of Minnesota