When the Audience becomes the Competitor

Lauren Hutcheon’s essay “Rhetoric and Competition”, published in 2003, is a critique of the current socio-climate in academia, more specifically how competition instead of collaboration dominates in current times.


The title “Rhetoric and Competition” was a Freudian Slip that happened to her and that was well-received in the academic community. Her main point is how today’s academic goals are more focused on discrediting and disproving fellow scholars and their theories instead of working together to maximize knowledge. Meaning that for her, competition involves attack.

This goes against Werron’s definition of how competition is a struggle of two parties for the same scarce commodity where the two parties do not necessarily interact. Another important factor in Werron’s theory is how they compete for an audience or “social capital”. While Werron had a critical stance regarding competition, he saw advantages in competition in “expert communities” where it would lead to innovation and creativity. This is obviously not shared by Hutcheon and he would not see her definition of the problem as competition, but conflict. This analysis is shared by many others in the class, including krisn10 who explained it thoroughly.

Bateson’s definition boils down to how competition is the absence of cooperation. People are trained to be independent and thus make selfish choices, meaning chasing after a scarce good without considering how it affects the community. For her, competition mainly happens on the same social level. In order to restore balance in the Anthropocene, corporations have to cooperate with each other.


Interesting about these three credible sources is how different they are from each and how they each make sense in their own ways. I am going to apply all three of them to this reading response.

According to Werron, he, Bateson, and Hutcheon are all vying for my approval, meaning that would be the scarce good. They are not interacting (at least in these pieces of information), so according to Werron it is indeed a competition and not a conflict. I am part of the audience as well as the desired commodity.

Hutcheon would want me not to attack her view when reflecting on it, but keep adding my knowledge to maximize the available information. Winning my approval for solely her view would not be satisfying for her, since that would subtract knowledge from the academic scene.

I am not a competitor in this particular subject according to Bateson since she looked at competition at the same social level. I am not an accredited scholar thus I am not on the same level as her and do not compete. However, since this marks the absence of competition which is according to her cooperation, I could be part of the problem solution she is suggesting. I am engaging in a dialogue with her and her opinion, thus cooperating. An example she cited was how people lost the ability to cooperate with losing one universal  language thus the abilitgy to commuicate is essential to cooperation.

Due to new media it has become easier for the audience to be part of the equation, instead of just a big mysterious mass. Bateson actually mentions new communication methods in her work, but does not touch on how these technologies can bridge the gap between two different social levels. Individuals can interact directly with scholars and corporations – even presidents – over Twitter and other social media. One example for this could be how an individual (@DylanSheaMusic) tweeted at Elon Musk. Musk is known for being a billionaire (founder of Paypal, Tesla and more), but he is not very popular in the public. The Tweet presents a clear challenge expressed by reverse psychology and went as following: “Hey @elonmusk I heard a bunch of people saying there’s NO WAY you could help get clean water to Flint, Michigan. Said you wouldn’t be capable idk” (1)

Elon Musk actually responded the following publicly: “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels. No kidding.” (2) This is a staggering example how the audience can suddenly step up and challenge corporations/the elite which are not on the same social level. There is no second billionaire or corporation directly competing with Musk. The Flint water crisis is a unique problem with a unique social context that can only be solved once and thus the resulting social capital would be equally unique and can be argued to be scarce commodity. However, if one wanted to interpret this as a competition, according to Werron, there would be one competitor missing. I would interpret the audience as audience as well as co-competitor. Elon Musk would be struggling to win their approval by solving the Flint water crisis ( = scarce commodity) despite the audience’s distrust/antipathy ( = competitor). Thus Musk would be competing against his former selfish decisions and based upon social capital embedded in the audience.


In my opinion, we should focus more on the audience as an active part of competition. It has the chance to directly connect and influence competitors by raising spirits, challenging them, attributing social capital. In a way they offer an outsider’s perspective. It is human nature to compare and judge. Just like I did during this reading response. I followed Bateman by cooperating. However, I disagree that corporations have to cooperate in order for the Anthropocene to be balanced, since they are often already cooperating, but not to the interest of the environment or general public. I followed Werron by investigating the role of the audience. However, I re-evaluated his model and the role of the audience. I followed Hutcheon by reflecting on and adding to other opinions, thus creating a complementary counter-discourse and maximizing knowledge. However, her interpretation of competition convinced me the least.

What can be concluded is that competition has many different forms and varies greatly in individual, social and scientific perception and context. The act of comparing different views competition can turn into a zero-sum-game that creates artificial competition, which makes me question if our society as it is today can turn its back on competition at all.


(1) https://twitter.com/DylanSheaMusic/status/1017148253765156864 , 11.07.2018

(2) https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1017149641991680002 , 11.07.2018

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