Root -Reading Response for Rhetoric and Competition


‘Rhetoric and Competition’ is an academic article written by Linda Hutcheon, a Canadian professor of literary theory, criticism and opera. This article focuses on criticizing about the intense competition in the academia, which is the result of ‘critique scholarship’, since it emphasizes personal achievement. The outcome is the demolition of tolerance for variety of thoughts, leading to stagnation of creativity for academic research and development.

By comparing this article with Mary Catherine Bateson’s ‘The Myths of Independence and Competition’ and Tobias Werron’s ‘Why do we believe in competition? A historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalised modern imaginary’, we can easily stress the differences of definition for competition among the three authors, who devote their energy and passion to diverse fields of study. Meanwhile, we can also find some similarities of content and structure among the three articles.

Tobias Werron is a sociologist who studies social interaction in all the aspects. Therefore, his article has a broad view, including domains of economics, education and politics. He defined competition as “for the favor of an audience that reproduced by public comparisons of performances”. (Werron, 2015) Competition first appeared as a social form of interaction in market economy. Then it expanded to political rivalry, academic achievement and competitive sports. For example, during the “US presidential election, the world saw candidates Donald trump and Hillary Clinton have nationally televised debates, where for the entirety of the debate were primarily focused attacking the other and their works”. (W, 2018) In modern society, it developed into competition of international ranking and global ranking of universities.

As we mentioned at the beginning, Hutcheon is an expert of literary theory, which is the base of humanity arts, so she researched about the competition in the academia by investigating the root of several ancient Greek terms, such as lyceum, agonistics, and agon, and how these words evolved into the modern definition, which is totally different from their origins. In ancient times, people came together to discuss freely about their own opinions, listened sincerely to others who thought from different perspectives, and enjoyed the innovation of new disciplines. However, those golden ages were gone with the wind. To find the underlying reason, the author mentioned the ‘critique scholarship’, “a sign of deeply competitive, indeed adversarial, culture that [had] been fostered within the academy, as in the culture generally”, which “actively [taught] us to adopt ‘an attitude of contempt toward scholars who [worked] in a different theoretical framework’. (Hutcheon, 2003) The modern award system encourages scholars to value the primacy of thoughts by declaring the patent, which is a way to show ownership of something. Because of this, knowledge is no longer something marvelous, free and open to all human beings that provokes a sense of common and wonder. Instead, it becomes something that can make the owner of an idea rich and famous. When we are buying some best sellers in the store, have we ever thought about this? Are the authors writing the things that are truly in their minds and hearts, or are they just writing to cater the taste of the majority and the fashion of times, so they could sell more books? This point shares similarity with Werron’s argument. When we are focusing on the global ranking of universities as Werron mentioned, have we ever thought about its meaning? Does the ranking itself encourages academic research and achievement, or does it promote the race among universities? Are they doing research in order to have valuable findings? Are they solely pursuing higher ranking? The pursuit of knowledge itself has became the pursuit of prestige, privilege and social status. Unfortunately, we have already lost the genuineness of the sense of wonder and the passion of the pursuit of gospel along the way.

Comparatively, both Werron and Hutcheon mentioned zero-sum game. It means that the victory of someone comes at the expense of the lose of another, which is the underlying drive of competition. It shows in the use of fear and envy in academy, since “there is no sense that one person’s gain benefits the entire company. Colleagues may feel diminished or passed by as merit raises and privileges fly over their heads and land at the feet of another”. (Davis, 1999) Then the winners feel pressure, and become disconnected with the losers. Further distance leads to less communication, breeding more misunderstanding and biases. Then a dark cycle begins. Obviously, the formation of this detrimental outcome is based on the fact that we are not truly appreciating others’ strengths. We are driven by the fear in our hearts that others may progress and become better than us. However, this thought itself has already imprisoned our minds in a limited territory.

In contrast with Hutcheon’s argument, Bateson’s speech mainly targeted at the phenomenon of individualism in contemporary society, since she is an anthropologist, whose central focuses are human behaviors, thoughts and culture. By her own definition, competition is a result of independence and individualism which is a form of conformity to indirectly avoid cooperation. (Bateson, 2016) When babies were born to this world, their parents started instilling the ‘independence training’ by forcing them to learn how to be and enjoy being alone. As the children mature, they tend to believe that the modern society’s morals value the independent, and those who depend on others are shameful because they are not strong enough to help themselves. Hence, the ‘independent people’ are not willing to ask for help, since they are afraid of demonstrating their weaknesses. To provoke our recognition and consciousness of interdependence, she referred to endosymbiosis, “a way that one bacterium took up residence inside another that was mutually beneficial” (Bateson, 2016), which was the beginning of the magic evolutionary journey for all the creatures. We were born genetically to be related to our family, to occupy a role in the society, and to be a part of our culture and heritage, which evokes a sense of belonging. This example appeals to all human beings, since all of us are strongly biologically related. Nevertheless, modern human beings are trying to ignore these inevitable traits that are deeply embedded in the genome, which is absolutely ridiculous.

By comparing these two articles, we can find the similarities of content and structure. Both authors went back to the root of human histories to demonstrate that competition was not at the origin of survival and academic discussion by referring to biological perspective’s endosymbiosis and explaining the archaic definition of agon in the first half of the article. Meanwhile, they also interpreted that humans were instinctively and unintentionally cooperating with each other. Hutcheon’s example of citation is an obvious representation of interdependence, since we build our own pyramid of thoughts on the bases of others, and draw some pieces of bricks from others’ opinions to consolidate and enrich our arguments. In the latter part, both of them advocated a “‘call to action’ with Hutcheon’s promotion of counter-discourse method and Bateson’s active listening respectively. “I see counter-discourses as, by definition, both/and (not either/or): both resistant to and dependent upon those dominant discourses that develop out of the normalized order of shared values”. (Hutcheon, 2003) According to Hutcheon’s definition, counter-discourse is a means of communication by holding a judgmental view toward some collectively accepted shared values, and selectively add new and branched opinions, based on mutual acceptance. From my perspective of view, this method not only avoids the degeneration of academic progress, but also encourages innovation by avoiding fierce competitions, since everyone has the opportunity to present their ideas and may become a new part of the theoretical framework. Comparatively, Bateson’s suggestion coincidentally offers a more specific way to achieve counter-discourse. “We can get to the point of speaking honestly and listening to what is happening in our common world”. (Bateson, 2016) To achieve better understanding during a conversation, both parties have to listen to each other sincerely and show respect. Comprehension is the bridge that connects two distant hearts, which avoids bias and misunderstanding.

The three authors’ arguments make us gradually realize the severity of competition. Although it’s hard to bring changes to current situation within a short period of time, as long as we don’t lose hope and never say never, the future will become better and better. If we ever get lost in the secular world, please don’t drift with the current. Think about those golden ages when we were still kids. When we still had passionate curiosity and genuineness, we never stopped asking questions, trying new things and discovering the world. Now imagine how the world was like when the academia was at its infant stage. When every part of different disciplines still remained pure, tranquil and untainted, human minds could go to every corner like the speed of light. It’s the true freedom. I sat on the balcony with breeze touching my hair gently, beneath were the Greek white walls running along the endless blue coast. I closed my eyes and started contemplating. My minds were dancing. When I opened my eyes, the world was shining and crystallizing. If we could view every different perspective like the new knowledge we learn, truly appreciate the differences among individuals, and be open, pure, and genuine like children, we could go back to the root, where “arguments and ideas can be presented, heard, and debated freely”. (S, 2018) It’s the idyllic time of academy.


Bateson, M. C. (2016). The Myths of Independence and Competition. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 33(5), 674-677.
Davis, L. J. (1999). The Uses of Fear and Envy in Academe. Retrieved from
Hutcheon, L. (2003). RHETORIC AND COMPETITION: Academic Agonistics. Common Knowledge, 9(1), 42-49.
S. (2018). Reading Response – Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon. Retrieved from
W. (2018). Reading Response-Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon. Retrieved from
Werron, T. (2015). Why do we believe in competition? A historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalized modern imaginary. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 16(2), 186-210.


  1. I like your comments on the academic atmosphere of ancient Greece, and I feel sorry for the changes that have taken place in the academic field. It made me wonder again what caused us to lose such a valuable research mentality and what led to extreme competition. An unreasonable reward system does not seem to be the only reason. Nowadays, the pursuit of fame has become popular, but in ancient Greece, scholars did not pursue fame? Or, with the rapid development of the economy, the pursuit of fame material has reached its peak? I always feel that there must be something that drives it in the process.

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  2. I would say that the pursuit for fame always exsits, crossing the boundary of history and races. Since we are all humans, we are not perfect. We are driven by our basic instincts. However, I just feel so discombobulated. When I am reading various articles from those famous scholars, I feel like they are talking about similar things. I know it’s inevitable, since the development of new theories and disciplines are based on the foundation of previous scholars and we are trained to use critical thinking. If people all use the similar way to think and have the similar academic source, how can we still create new things that are totally different from the old ones. How can we still let our minds and spirits fly freely? Although the materials that I am learning are great, I just no longer feel the happiness of the process of thinking. To some extent, we choose to imprison our thoughts by unintentionally imitating others, which is a way of “cooperation”.


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