Reading Response: Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon #P03

Society’s engagement with competition as wholly changed over the past few centuries. Taking its principles beyond merely the economic marketplace to nearly every social science. As such, academic discourse on the subject has become an understandably demanded practice. However, throughout all this trending discourse there has been one definition particularly sought after- the very definition of competition. Due to the essentially contested nature of competition, many academic pieces must assert directly or indirectly their definition for it.

Linda Hutcheon, a Canadian academic, writes in a piece published in 2003 titled ‘Rhetoric and Competition’ about competition in the academic setting. Hutcheon leads with a focus on how it is leading to the detriment of academics rather than its progress and offers solutions or at the very least proposed concepts one could hold in mind to re-adjust struggle in counteraction in the academic setting. Her piece correlates and contrasts with both Bateson’s ‘The Myths Of Independence & Competition’ and Werron’s ‘Why Do We Believe in Competition?’, to provide a noteworthy example of how the definition of contest changes from piece to piece.

In regards to the content shared between Hutcheon, Bateson, and Werron, there is little more than the general principle that all of them utilize or pursue the discourse of competition. Having stated that, Werron’s proposed definition for competition (that current competition is all about procuring the favor of an audience, which is again a definition that may not be applicable or function for all scenarios where competition is involved) could function as the definition for both Hutcheon’s and Werron’s usages of competition. As well, they are many differences between the pieces. These are primarily visible between the Hutcheon’s and Bateson’s pieces, and that of Werron’s. The difference there being that Werron has produced an academic article and had to correspond to the criteria as to not detract from any credibility he asserts, and Hutcheon’s and Bateson’s piece is being commentaries. In short, neither form detracts from the ideas the respective author is presenting.

The core principle, competition, is really what defines all of these academic works, which is ironic given that competition itself is not defined in a general way. The pieces are most easily defined by the two distinctions each author makes regarding competition; the whom that is competing and for what they are competing.

Hutcheon’s perspective of the who is situational, as she is discussing it regarding scholarship, however, one may view the competitors in her situation as the what generates the issue of a negative setting for the progress of knowledge. These competitors, beyond the specifics, follow a doctrine that promotes the dismemberment of ideas and antagonistic counter-discourse. Hutcheon wishes for there to be an adjustment made so that counter-discourse becomes an additive process, a concept that links closely to Bateson. Bateson’s main argument is that cooperation over competition will lead to the overall benefit of society and the competitors of her situation are individuals striving for independent success in a society that should be interdependent. Hutcheon and Bateson’s main argument align, although Hutcheon’s seems to be on a micro scale while Bateson is on a macro. Werron’s relation to this argument is difficult to directly link as his goals are to define competition rather than to insert opinion into the academic discourse. The definition he presents in his piece does provide additional insight into the pieces; however, they are more relevant to the second defining aspect of competition

What the competitors in Hutcheon’s case are competing over is slightly more difficult to explain. The nature of Hutcheon’s argument renders what the competitors are competing for not as significant as the way they are going about competing. However, if there is to be a motive to compete in this scenario, it is the motive to, as an individual scholar, become more credible or recognized. Hutcheon’s call to action does change this motive and moves it from being a selfish one to one that yet again prioritizes scholarly progress. As the original motive for competition stands though, we can immediately draw a connection to Werron’s article. Werron, although not mainly focusing on an example, defined competition as being a competition for the favor of an audience. Although not interchangeable, audience favor could convey through credibility. As well, Bateson provides a more macro motive of individual success in a society which could encompass both of these motives. Thus, the relationship goes from Bateson’s general “success”, to Werron defining this success as “audience favor”, and Hutcheon identifying this “favor” as credibility and recognition within an academic community.

Ultimately,  ‘Rhetoric and Competition’  possesses its definition of competition but not one that is wholly unique. Hutcheon’s desire to change the direction of the academic setting towards a more positive one is a noble proposal. Furthermore, although technology in the modern age could be viewed as merely another platform to receive critique, it also provides opportunities to collaborate that have never been possible. It is conceivable now that cooperation could become equally as common as competition.


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