Choose to be Curious

Capitalist Curiosity & Student Mental Health

“Curiosity is challenged by what one ‘ought’ to want to know.” ~ Arjun Shankar

Arjun Shankar, Ph.D., is a lecturer in anthropology and education studies, currently writing a book called How Development Feels. 

We spoke about his paper, “The Campus is Sick: Capitalist Curiosity and Student Mental Health.” He takes issue with our commodification of curiosity and challenges us to see its alarming consequences and the influences infecting college campuses in ways we might never have intended or imagined.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #107: Capitalist Curiosity & Student Mental Health, with Arjun Shankar.

What I Learned: Like so many systems of quiet control, the bindings are often hidden from those they constrain. Everyone feels stuck, but no one seems to know why. Until they do. Disruption can be taught.

What I Loved: Curiosity is hot. And far be it from me to put a damper on that enthusiasm. I am, after all, among those fanning the flames.

In part, curiosity is a flavor of the day, the latest silver bullet, promising a perfect shot at business success and world domination. With it in our arsenal, our students will thrive, our relationships flourish, our creativity blossom. You get the idea: curiosity as cure-all. If only we can bottle it, everything will be great!

Only: not. Bottling curiosity, assigning it very particular and narrowly prescribed applications dangerously undermines the expansive unbridled nature of curiosity itself. I’m grateful to Arjun for calling it out.

Arjun Shankar is the ninth in my series of interviews with the contributing authors to the forthcoming anthology Curiosity Studies: A New Ecology of Knowledge (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).  Stay tuned for more episodes!

More about Arjun Shankar: As a visual anthropologist, he’s done some very cool work in various media. Check it out!

Thanks to C2BC intern Caroline Kish for her work on this series and reflections for this episode. Listen to her own episode, Curiosity and Sex Ed, with Jacomina de Regt. 

Our theme and other music is by Sean Balick . Check out Sean’s new album “From the Pines”.  

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Shankar -Faculty need to teach students how to learn to resist, to begin asking challenging questions that make students feel like they can change the situation they are in”



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