Reading Response – Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon

The journal article of Linda Hutcheon ‘Rhetoric and Competition’ published in 2003 by Duke University Press is an interesting reading article for those who are interested in the causes and consequences of competition not just in the academic field, but also in our society. Linda first presents for the public the reality of academic competition that she experiences and later on suggests possibilities to transform this learning area to a more welcoming environment.

Even though all three writing pieces are in one way or another related to the topic ‘competition’, the content and structure of each one vary a lot. The easiest one to differentiate regarding the structure is Bateson’s ‘Myths of independence and competition’, by the simple fact that it’s actually a speech, not an academic writing such as Hutcheon’s and Werron’s. This disparity is reflected in more metaphors and fewer citations, more informal vocabulary and fewer complex words. Meanwhile, we can draw a comparison line between Werron’s ‘Why do we believe in competition?’ and Hutcheon’s ‘Rhetoric and Competition’ since both try to do some analysis disclosing the history of the competition(or lack of) throughout different eras and how this affects how human beings behave in the society. It’s important to reiterate that all the arguments and pieces of evidence used by the last two authors are well-founded in many other authors’ works, something that isn’t possible to see at Bateson’s speech because the format doesn’t allow this kind of citations.

In regard to the content, on the other hand, it’s possible to see how Bateson’s text walk along with Hutcheon’s, sharing the idea of competition being the opposite of cooperation, while Werron’s work follows a more neutral and impartial approach. Bateson and Hutcheon argue that dismantling the myth of independence and the concept of individualism -both created by the present institutional ideology- is a key factor to reach a “nirvana” society, where everyone will naturally think not about personal preferences, but about the group’s interests. Another mutual aspect is the calling to action since both authors suggest a path that must be followed to lower the competition among individuals in our society. At the same time, Werron decides to abstain from his personal opinion and focus on defining what competition means. In order to do that he evaluates how the competition was interpreted and used throughout distinct centuries, but always using a sociological scope. He concluded that we should investigate even more how distinct factors alter our concept of competition, and just then, we will have definitive conclusions.

The word ‘competition’ is the main point of the three arguments, but it doesn’t mean that they all were trying to express the exact same idea, actually, it is possible to see peculiarities in each text. Werron uses the Georg Simmel definition of competition: “A form that requires that at least to participants struggle for the same scarce good, without necessarily directly interacting with each other.” As it is said before, since his goal is to achieve a general definition of competition, it has a broader meaning, being attributed at the same time to the economic field (Adam Smith and David Ricardo), politic sphere (Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter) and many others.

Bateson’s, through her speech, shows that she considers competition a vile part of western world life, that is even more reinforced to serve as the current individualistic mindset foundation. She refers to competition as a zero-sum game, where there will always be a side impaired or even some cases where all sides are harmed. In her final analyses, competition is the opposite of interdependence, which is the key issue to develop a better and more sustainable world.

In Hutcheon’s argument, competition had a stricter scope, focusing mainly at conflicts within the academic sphere. She uses the comparison of the different connotation of the word agon, which first was used to describe an assembly but now describes contest and debate, to show how the academic environment has changed from a gathering and cooperative place to a wolfish and cruel surrounding. Hutcheon also puts forth the idea that the corporatization of the universities created the corporate capitalism idea that you must attack others in order to survive, which made normal occasions where academics need to put others down in order to elevate their own self-interests.

Ultimately, all the writers are interested in the effects that competition brings to our society, but each one more concerned about a specific point. Bateson, for example, is worried that the future of our planet is in danger mainly because we have an individualistic mind and can’t cooperate to solve environmental problems. Hutcheon is concerned that the competition has affected the academia, which is now a pinnacle of wolfish. Werron, on the other hand, believes that to discuss competition we first need to understand what this word means. As a final conclusion, the authors agree that the capitalism, together with an individualist society that we experience in the Western world have influences on how we understand competition, and consequently, how we act in relation to it.

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