Reading Response – Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon

In this journal article from 2003, Hutcheon attempts to illuminate the state of competition in modern academic discourse, and what actions academics should be taking henceforth to create a more collaborative and tolerant community.

Regarding content and structure, although Hutcheon and Werrons’ respective works were both articles published in academic journals, this article by Hutcheon is much closer to Bateson’s ‘Myths of independence and competition’ than Werron’s ‘Why do we believe in competition? A historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalised modern imaginary’. While Werron argued a more neutral stance and concluded that further study and observation was necessary, both Hutcheon and Bateson argued strongly in favour of collaboration over competition. Both Hutcheon and Bateson also incorporated the usage of anecdotes in their argument, and a ‘call to action’ for people remove the shackles of independence and embrace interdependence. The main difference between the two being that while Hutcheon’s intent was primarily directed to the academic community and higher education in the interest of preserving the pursuit of scholarship, Bateson’s is directed towards the general populace in the interest of preserving our future as a society.

While all three have made competition a key concept to revolve on in their works, there are some nuances in their individual presentations of the term. Bateson’s speech was more focused on the idea that it has become the norm in our society to aim towards independence. Competition results from the expense of cooperation and independence. Hutcheon had a narrower view, looking at competition within scholars and the academia. She described it as a means of survival, ‘attack to survive’, where modern scholarship has regressed to the point where academics need to put others down in order to elevate their own self-interests. She observes it as part of the ‘argument culture’ in society, where ‘invective and personal attack are the American way’. Werron defined competition as: “Modern forms of competition are competitions for the favour of an audience that are (re-)produced by public comparisons of performances.” Providing a broader focus on the concept, Werron’s focus was more on generic modern forms of competition, and studying the long-term effects of its institutionalisation and deriving further areas of study to be developed thereafter.

With respect to Hutcheon’s article itself, overall I greatly appreciated her call for a community with more tolerance for greater diversity and variety. Too often it seems, people speak without consideration, and listen for the sake of listening. While I hope that there has been some progress gained in between the 15 years she has made this observation and now, it’s clear that there is still room for improvement. While it is of utmost importance in an academic setting, I believe it is certainly something we should all strive towards as a society. Having more empathy leads to thoughtfulness, and strengthens the connections of our social interactions.

In regards to her critique of the academic community back in 2003, I’m not really in any position to verify the veracity of her observations. It does seem quite outrageous, almost to the point of disbelief that academic discourse had degenerated to such a level. In particular I refer to a quote she referenced, made by a colleague in the philosophy department: “We listen to try to prove – and then show – that the speaker is entirely wrong.” Especially in a field like philosophy, it seems rather odd that such a distressing comment like this was made. To me, philosophy as a field has always been somewhere arguments and ideas can be presented, heard, and debated freely. To make such a statement which begins with a mindset that the speaker is already wrong, even prior to the presentation of their ideas, is completely abhorrent to me.

3 Comments

  1. I am able understand and appreciate the point you make on the topic of Philosophy being something so highly open for discussion in the academic community. However, I believe we can see Hutcheon’s theory of “Peoples mind’s already being made up prior to the presentation of an idea.” More in a field such as current day politics where candidates are seen speaking at rally’s and debates with the sole intention of ruining their competitors (and their followers) reputation’s in a hope to make themselves look better.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I would say that politics, though very closely linked to philosophy, is a vastly different arena. Although it would be ideal if politicians could all be rational of mind and respectful towards their opposition, I certainly don’t have this expectation of them. In an academic setting of philosophy however, I firmly believe this idea of denouncing your opponent before they’ve even presented their argument is completely unacceptable. The academia should be a neutral haven for scholars to escape from precisely the politics that embroil society, where they can argue and discuss without being clouded all the pettiness and irrationality sometimes associated with politics. Maybe I’m just being idealistic though…

    Thanks for the reply!

    Liked by 1 person

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