Reading Response: Hutcheon’s “Rhetoric & Competition”

The following is a reading response to Linda Hutcheon’s “Rhetoric & Competition” which was published on Common Knowledge Volume 9, Issue 1, 2003. I will also relate and compare the following works, Bateson’s “The Myths of Independence and Competiton” as well as Werron’s “Why do we believe in competition? A historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalized modern imaginary”.

Hutcheon’s Paper

Hutcheon takes no time in telling the reader what she finds as a menacing problem in our current society, and she poses the question as “Why is it that rhetoric and competition seem to go together so well in our current academic context?”. Throughout her work, she is seen trying to inform the reader that competition in the academic system is a negative thing and that we should rather be working together and collaborating more. She paints the picture of an educational hierarchy that is in a “wolfish” state, she believes that we have let the model of corporate capitalism and pecking order of businesses creep into the educational structure. This model she believes has infected our personal and intellectual lives that we now see it, as she put it, “A colleague as an “enemy” to be scorned and condemned?” and also how critical thinking has been perverted into a petty conflict of “wolfish belittling and even demolishing of opposing positions”.

Hutcheon sees these as problems in our current climate, and she does propose some solutions to combat them. In Page 47 Hutcheon says ”  We need to learn how to feel more comfortable entertaining other than our own position on any given topic, to learn to accept (and promote) a “climate of positive copresence.” ” This is Hutcheon’s plea to the reader to open up their minds in the relation to how they perceive competition in the educational sector. She thoroughly explains why cooperation is more helpful as it can be used as a tool for one to better improve themselves and not the way it is now.


In Relation to the Other Two Works

Hutcheon is a literary theorist, Bateson is an anthropologist, while Werron is a sociologist, this, in turn, creates three different explanations towards the main concept of competition in human life. Hutcheon’s work, I believe, is more closely related to that of Bateson’s as both authors take a stand on clear stance on competition and how it is not always meant to be seen as this absolute necessity in our lives, but they rather argue that cooperation is better in the long run. Werron takes a more neutral stance and I believe is very empirical in his writing, he prefers to look at the past and explain the rationale and meaning behind works written by historical figures. One could say that Werron and Bateson formulate their work in a way to persuade the reader to agree with them, hence why they speak in the first person (Bateson’s work was actually a speech!) and Werron states the facts and information but leaves the persuasion factor up to the reader to decide.

Bateson’s and Hutcheon’s are quite similar in my opinion as she both see cooperation and interdependence as parts of us humans that we can’t realistically avoid. This is where they diverge though, as Bateson explains this notion in the way human biology works and mentions the likes of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Bateson sees interdependence on one another as a key component of bettering our society. Hutcheon, on the other hand, sees cooperation and interdependence as fundamental parts of the educational learning experience. Hutcheon calls for us to stop ripping and demolishing other people’s points of view simply because they are different from ours, but rather use education as a platform to hear each other out and improve ourselves.

Due to the differences in the three pieces of work, each other had a different definition and execution of competition. Hutcheon sees that competition does have a space in our society, which she says “No competition means no progress”, however, she sees that it has no place in our educational system and way of thinking. Bateson in some sense demonizes competition as this thing that has no place in our lives, even at the biological level, and that as soon as we get rid of it we can solve pressing world issues such as global warming. Werron doesn’t lay his opinion much, mainly because his work is a research paper, but he rather states information.

My Opinion and Conclusion

The three authors all make interesting claims about competition, I  personally tend to agree more with Hutcheon than the other two mainly because she says that we should get rid of the current wolfish behavior. I see that most debate and discourse in the educational sphere has turned into screaming contests mainly because we have become deeply competitive in a field that doesn’t inherently require much of it. Hutcheon says “that competition should be more of a win-win thing but sometimes it’s hard” and that is mainly because “people tend to believe what they have lost.”, we have become so accustomed to having winners and losers in education that we can’t imagine any other way. I believe that rather than approaching education in this “wolfish” means, we should listen to what the other side has to say and only then and there formulate a counter-argument, not for the ultimate goal of winning but for the goal of reaching higher levels of learning. I believe that Hutcheon is trying to tell us that we must open our minds to new thoughts and not discredit something purely on the bases of difference.


References & Inspirations



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