Reading Response to Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon (Week 3)

In Rhetoric and Competition: academic agonistics, a 2003 article by Linda Hutcheon published in Volume 9 Issue 1 of the Common Knowledge journal, Hutcheon addresses the current state of academic discourse and proposes a more collaborative method to academic discussion.

In comparing the three readings given, written by Bateson, Hutcheon, and Werron, one can plainly see that Werron is the odd man out, so to speak. The content and structure of Hutcheon’s article are similar to Bateson’s The Myths of Independence and Competition, as both authors used the first-person quite extensively throughout their respective articles. In Bateson’s case, her article was heavily based off of a speech that she gave. Bateson and Hutcheon also used anecdotes throughout the article and argued strongly in favour of increased cooperation and decreased competition in society and academia, respectively. In comparison, Werron’s Why do we believe in competition? A historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalized modern imaginary rarely uses the first-person and is formatted more like a typical research article, in that he uses more specialized academic language. Whilst Werron took a more neutral stance in his article and called for further study and research on the subject, both Bateson and Hutcheon took a stronger stance, calling for a dramatic increase of cooperation and interdependence. Hutcheon focuses on the academic community, decrying the current state of academic discourse and its focus on tearing down competing views; Bateson focuses on society as a whole, criticizing our dependence on independence and advocating for an increase in interdependence throughout the world.

All three authors revolve around the concept of competition, though in different contexts. Bateson focuses on the fact that modern-day society heavily focuses on independence, starting from birth. Competition, Bateson argues, comes at the expense of interdependence and cooperation in society. The emphasis on independence will be ultimately detrimental to humanity as the world economy becomes more interdependent and as we tackle global issues such as anthropogenic climate change. Hutcheon’s argument focuses on the prevalence of competition in academia. Academia has become a “place of wolves” and has lost its sense of being part of a “novitiate culture”, instead, being influenced by corporate culture, following the model of corporate capitalism and creating a hierarchy within higher education. This culture reaches within the classroom and the lecture. As it is supposed to be a place to facilitate discussion, the current culture of “demolition and dispute” puts up barriers to those who may not have the personality type required to succeed in such an environment.

The effects of academic competition are rapidly becoming more apparent to the general public in today’s world. In Sam Warner’s response to the reading, he calls attention to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, with the two main candidates being now-president Donald Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. In nationally and internationally televised debates, both sides employed rhetoric, and in some cases, invective, to tear down their opponents and build themselves up. They were competing in a zero-sum game, with the limited resource being the votes of the populace and the Electoral College.

I found myself siding with Bateson and Hutcheon as I read their articles. After all, humans are inherently social animals. We are a species who has done fantastical things through cooperation. Through cooperation, we were able to build societies and monuments that will outlive us. I believe that humanity has an innate drive to explore and innovate, and while we currently channel that desire through competition with each other, global cooperation has the potential to take our species to heights previously unimaginable. No man, as John Donne said, is an island, so why not lift each other up instead of tearing each other down?

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