College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree



curiosity, difference, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, punishment


This dissertation takes the concept of curiosity, typically understood as a purely epistemological issue, and investigates its political stakes. I argue that curiosity is not only an underappreciated method of philosophy but also a critical practice for building inclusive political communities. By analyzing poststructural accounts of curiosityespecially from Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida-I identify two primary modes of curiosity. First, there is a curiosity that objectifies and often fetishizes what is different, and, second, there is a curiosity that destabilizes and transforms. While philosophy has historically dismissed both in favor of a respectful and reliable wonder, I argue that a critical account of curiosity is essential if we are to predicate our political ethos on shared subjecthood. Finally, drawing on archival material from Foucault's prison activism and Derrida's death penalty abolition seminars, I take punishment as a case study in curiosity, demonstrating curiosity's centrality not only to juridical trials and media coverage, but also its tactical importance for prison resistance movements and abolitionist efforts. While curiosity has the capacity to underscore already reigning structures of political privilege, it can also destabilize ideologies.