Reading Response – Hutcheon and Werron on Public Competition

Linda Hutcheon’s “Rhetoric and Competition”, addresses a recent and problematic development in the academic community: authors competing for an audience. Hutcheon argues that “at some point during the 20th century, we appear to have lost the sense of being part of a “novitiate culture.” She notes that while the connotation of this phrase is religious “in my field that has meant losing a sense of … disseminating Truth and beauty.”,  in other words, cooperation. In the community of academics this phenomena has materialized within academic life in the form of a public “pecking order”, whereby the “clever and articulate win” what is now a “battle of words that has become the defining characteristic of education.”


While Tobias Werron takes a less critical stance on competition, his piece “Why do we believe in competition? A historical view of competition as an institutionalized modern imaginary”, looks at competition in a similar way (a conflict over an audience). Werron points out that “competition for attention” is a form of competing for an audience. Another important aspect of competition for an audience that Werron addresses in parallel with Hutcheon, are the factors that increase the circulation of this competitive discourse. Werron cites Pierre Bourdieu, a French psychologist who studied competition within television and the field of journalism. “He argues that competition between broadcasters and journalists, because of common orientation towards viewing rates and sale of advertisements, has homogenizing effects” on the result of the work produced. In other words, the increase of the technological stage where academia is shared, has led to greater exposure to other ideas, greater competition, and possible “homogenizing” which means the increased artistic conformity amongst authors under public pressure. While this is not a blatantly negative take on this technological phenomenon, it is clear that technology used within academic discourse increases the amount of individuals that have access to the work, which will inevitably make the field more competitive.


I think it’s harder to tell whether or not these two authors are referring to the same thing when they say competition because they both argue different levels of critique on modern day competition. To reiterate the differences in their respective arguments, Hutcheon argues that the discourse of modern academics has become increasingly competitive, and as a result, the discourse has become more “subtractive” than “additive” to the pursuit of knowledge. Werron on the other hand, argues the value using an “empirical research perspective” to learn more about modern competition as a reproduction of “public comparisons of performance.” Yet they both analyze competition within the context of an audience. This is alludes to Werron’s model of pure competition which shows the public’s constant spectation of the competing interests. From this I glean that Werron uses the word competition to describe the relationship between the audience and the competitor. Hutcheon sees the competition within academic discourse as one-on-one “combat and one-upmanship.” An “adversarial process” which involves two combatants. In Hutcheon’s argument, she does make a mention of an audience, as I mentioned earlier. However, the audience doesn’t go beyond a benign observer. The audience does not affect Hutcheon’s definition of competition, unlike Werron’s argument.

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