Reading Response- Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon




This research article published by Linda Hutcheon in 2003 can be best depicted as a clear-cut appeal to move away from competition that is brought about by an individualistic society, and which results in contempt. Her journal goes beyond just agnostics of how academic culture has developed but has instead come up with integrative solutions toward interaction that are more productive than aggressive institutional ideologies, “Knocking our heads together seems an unobvious route to enlightenment.” as quoted by Jeffery Perle.

The use of language in her article helps articulate how competitive discourse has changed the way we interact with people in the modern world. Harsh emphatic phrases such as “place of wolves”, “sites of combat”, “wolfish belittling and demolishing”, portray a sense of an argumentative and disconnected culture developing. The use of such crude language enhances the severity of the situation in modern society as well as the appeal she is trying to put across. Dignified Rants with Vaish’s post also puts across the same idea of how Hutcheon is trying to sway us with her strategic linguistic skills and hence engrave a sense of foreboding. (

It is evident that she wishes to strive towards a restructuring of thought in terms of academic discourse. One subtle example of this is the introduction of a keyword Agon which she primarily described as ‘Connoting contest, debate, and struggle, Agon has its roots in the verbal battles’ however it is subsequently revealed that its true origin is ‘gathering’. She showcased at the outset itself, that perceptions and words are fluid and have ever-changing meaning as even a word that begins with a community spirit ends up, a few decades later within a zero-sum genre. The repetition of this word throughout the text as ’having its associations with fierce competition, with struggle’ proves that we as a society should see learn to look past competitiveness as a fixed mindset and shed old leaves.


It is easy to say that the overall composition and language of Bateson and Hutcheon are similar. Bateson argued that individuals must be mindful of being part of a larger system in society. She uses the example of “Gregory Bateson’s description of a hand” as a metaphor to  emphasize how “four fingers being attached to a palm” is similar to how intertwined society is and therefore we must look at ourselves as being part of a big relationship rather than acting as self-focused individuals. While this acted as an introduction to society for Bateson, Hutch expands on this idea by reinforcing  the need to ”put more effort into finding more constructive ways of detecting and using strengths as well as weaknesses in the work of others.”

The individualistic culture of American society was stressed by both Bateson and Hutcheon as well. In Hutcheon’s article, “Combative oral performances of this kind have a long history in Western culture” and “invective and personal attack are the American way” implied the self-sustaining attitude that has developed whereas Bateson uses a blunt statement to create the same effect, “I regard the United States as an extremely individualistic society, in which individualism is often a form of conformity.”

Werron on the other hand, drew on a review of competition and more specifically, researched how competition was “taking on different contents while retaining their form”, though also used personal pronouns like Bateson and Werron. His article targeted the progression of competition as an idea that gradually encompassed different genres like sports where the zero sum ideology was introduced and free market ideology as well as perfect competition in economics was highlighted.


Hutcheon’s article is wholesome and provides a thorough perspective on competition, especially one that I hadn’t seen before despite Bateson and Werron having some overlap in ideas and content. The idea that of those of a certain intellectual ability that are skillfully prepared to engage in witty discourse are the ones who prevail and hence ” dominate academic life” provides a great deal of generalisability to the academic system today and completely resonates with how students are adapting to changing societal values and norms. The anecdotal reference to Jane Tompkins perfectly encapsulates how “critical, intellectual mandate” can turn into” demolishing of opposing positions.” The fact that employees or academia in reality see their colleagues as “enemies that must be condemned” supports her cause as she poses her own subtle less threatening rhetoric ‘Need enmity enter into the question at all?’ A string of these rhetoric’s are strategically positioned at the end of each and every argument she puts forth and has all the more turned me in favour of her opinion. Ironically, she too is in a similar way acting as the woman in the Jane Tompkins extract, using “witty, elegant, pellucid, and razor sharp” language to lure the readers into a charming and blatant exposure to the reality of what competition has turned society into.


Hutcheon provided a glimpse into a different perspective of competition, one that I wholly appreciate. The language and imagery she used, provoked me to side with the comments and justifications she deliberately put in place. The discourse surrounding competition is intriguing and the aspects of production of knowledge versus the subtraction logic and how “some subtractions involve some degree of synthesis as well.” proves that co-operation is inherent and innate among even Biology (as pointed out by Bateson’s research from Lynn Margolis.) I have come to the conclusion that competition is very much necessary and agree with rubychowww’s perception of how it is integral to progression. (

The propositions Hutcheon puts forth are impressionable as she leaves readers like me with rhetoric’s provoking my mind to ponder upon the validity of the extent to which combating a culture of self-sustenance and competitive spirit is truly possible. And if it is, will the time lag that progresses toward the change reveal greater disparity in society that increase the probability of these suggestions being opposed and further critiqued? The questions that come to me are also in relevance to Dignified Rants with Vaish’s blog post where the predominant presence of social media is leading to a worsening culture of battling and challenges. ( From video games that simulate competitive spirits to social media influencers on Instagram that grapple to sell brands off, the world is becoming increasingly competitive and so I would like to end by considering the rhetoric’s by Hutcheon once again:

“Should we make fewer assertions and ask more questions has never been as productive as encouragement and cooperation?”, “But cannot rigorous critical thinking be rescued from its present reduction to attack and opposition?”



  1. Hey Jc Saenz, thanks for mentioning me in your article. I do agree with your points about the negative side-effects of competition creating ‘unhealthy mindsets’ and also acknowledge your contrasting stance as valid. Hutcheon did move me with her emphatic sentences but your conclusion also shed light on various issues i had not considered before.


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