Curiosity Studies: A New Ecology of Knowledge

Drawing authors from philosophy, history, literature, ethnic studies, gender studies, education, anthropology, psychology and psychoanalysis, ecology, biomedicine, neuroscience, physics, and visual art, this book stages a transdisciplinary conversation about what curiosity is and what resources it might hold for human and ecological flourishing. As such, the book is the first Anglophone, broadly cross-disciplinary interrogation of the concept and future of curiosity. In an age where human curiosity has gained astounding and sometimes terrifying power–and the reality of animal curiosity and the possibility of artificially intelligent curiosity is increasingly felt–this book equips us to live critically and creatively in what might be called our new Age of Curiosity.

~ What is Curiosity Studies? –  Perry Zurn & Arjun Shankar

Curiosity Studies cover
It is my honor and privilege to have been invited by editors Perry Zurn and Arjun Shankar to interview the contributing authors in their anthology Curiosity Studies: A New Ecology of Knowledge (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Beginning in June 2019, I aired one interview each month with the remarkable people behind this exciting volume that seeks to be “enlivening, stimulating and unsettling” and to “enact a radical curiosity in your every day life.”

What more might a radio producer ask?

What I Have Learned

More than eighty episodes into my own show as this series launched, I am still humbled by what fits in the curiosity bucket. These folks have been thinking about things that had never dawned on me. I have come to realize “curiosity” is deeper, wider and more varied than even I had thought.

To prepare adequately for these conversations, I’ve read not only the authors’ chapters, but their other writings, as well as that of their colleagues, their collaborators, and the occasional critic. So much more to read.

Trite as it is, I came to expect the unexpected — and to embrace it. Therein lie the most compelling conversations.

I learned to be patient with the unfolding of a new field. We haven’t gotten all the edges smoothed yet. Besides: where are the edges? And why are they there?

And I now know how difficult it is to get — and stay — on an academic’s calendar.

What I Have Loved

I’ve come to appreciate the potential costs of curiosity, the neurodiversity of its expression, its political freight, and its nuanced evolutionary processes. I love that I’ve been challenged and stretched and left to toss in bed at night on the heels of an intense interview. (see: “enlivening, stimulating and unsettling” above)

I’m humbled and excited by disciplines that parse the curiosity question so finely, the rigor with which the academy considers a novel area of study, and a clear and collective willingness to poke into corners and dark places.

As tickled as I was about these interviews, the contributors had me beat. Their energy and enthusiasm at every step of the process were both delightful and gratifying. They gave me opportunities to play with form and to mess with my model. Hours spent in the studio inure one to the charms of audio production; my guests reminded me how much fun radio can be.

Where You Can Listen

Network Science: Connecting the Dots, with Dani Bassett  Danielle Bassett, Eduardo D. Glandt associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania (March 11, 2020)

Curiosity & Collecting, with Barbara M. Benedict, Charles A. Dana professor in the Department of English at Trinity College. (June 26, 2019)

“Why Should This Be So?” with Susan Engel, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Williams College (January 8, 2020)

Ethnography & Cultures of Curiosity, with John L. Jackson, Jr., Dean of Annenberg School for Communications at University of Pennsylvania  (July 24, 2019)

Neurodiverse Curiosity, with Kristy Johnson, Affective Computing Group at the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (December 11, 2019)

Curiosity & Racist Mindsets, with Narendra Keval, Psychoanalyst, Consultant Psychotherapist & Clinical Psychologist (November 13, 2019)

Curious Entanglements, with Christina León, Princeton University (May 13, 2020)

In Praise of Distraction, with Tyson Lewis, College of Visual Arts & Design at University of North Texas (September 18, 2019)

Curios & Curiotizing, with Amy Marvin, Trans Scholar (October 16, 2019)

Capitalist Curiosity & Student Mental Health, with Arjun Shankar, lecturer in anthropology and education studies (February 5, 2020)

The Costs of Curiosity, with Seeta Sistla, School of Natural Science at Hampshire College (August 21, 2019)

Curiosity Studies, with Perry Zurn, Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University (April 15, 2020.)

More on Curiosity Studies: Check out the resource-rich Manifold site.

Perry Zurn: faculty profile, website, news

Arjun Shankar: faculty profile, website

EDITOR PICK LOCAL PODCASTAnd a fun addendum: Arlington Magazine selected Choose to be Curious as  Best of Arlington 2020, Editor Pick for Best Local Podcast, making specific mention of several of the Curiosity Studies conversations!

29 thoughts on “Curiosity Studies: A New Ecology of Knowledge

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.