Reading Response – Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon


The following post is a response to Linda Hutcheon’s “Rhetoric & Competition – Academic Agonistics”, published on Common Knowledge Volume 9, Issue 1, 2003. This response seeks to make an analysis of the article and provide my viewpoints on it as well as my views on competition as a concept in today’s society.


Competition has become a concept that is central to society, having the ability to be present in many things that people perform in their lives. Some examples are university  applications, in which one vies to obtain a spot in a limited pool of people, as well as someone arriving early to a sale of a new item, to make sure to get it before everyone else does. With this concept being seen as essential to living in today’s society, it is natural that it is one that is important to study. The fact that the academic world continuously studies competition does not save it from said concept’s presence inside of it. According to Linda Hutcheon in her speech titled ‘Rhetoric and Competition – Academic Agnostics’, the presence of competition has been increasingly dangerous for the integrity of academic studies.

Article Connections

Written in 2003 by Canadian academic Linda Hutcheon, this speech talks about how competition has become detrimental to academics by creating a “me vs. the world” mentality among its participants. This view on competition aligns with Bateson’s view. They both state that it is better to co-operate than to compete, the only difference is that Hutcheon seeks to make an impact in an academic scope, while Bateson seeks to make an impact in a societal scope. Both ladies argue that competition has allowed academics (and society) to become more predatory than ever before, and that we, as members of such areas, should consider alternative ways to making progress in our pursuits due to the fact that competition is more detrimental than beneficial. Their argument is that while competition may push people to develop and create academic progress, the unhealthy mentality that comes as a side effect is too much of a detriment for people to handle, and can cause them to resort to unsophisticated manners of action in order to attempt to get what they want. The main difference, in which I agree with Yousif Elbeltagy on, is that Hutcheon does see the place for competition in society, while Bateson wants the whole concept of it gone.

Werron, on the other hand, takes a much more pragmatic approach to the subject of competition than Hutcheon does. Werron’s arguments talk about the history of competition’s ever-increasing influence in society in an empirical analysis, proposing a new perspective on the study of competition as a concept that will lead to more questions in order to prevent premature conclusions about it. Werron does take note of the conflict-based nature that Hutcheon portrays in her writing, but is able to see the benefits of competition through a historical analysis, with particular regard to the modern way of business competition for audience.

My thoughts on this article

I find this article to be very biased. There is hardly any time in which an opposing point of view or even an objective point of view is acknowledged. Hutcheon attempts to talk about competition in a highly negative light with the use of bias by omission. There are plenty of instances in this speech in which competition is portrayed in what I believe is its worst light, which is predation. Cases such as Jane Tompkins at a conference and Nellie McKay’s argument of women becoming predatory in recent years to “make the academy into (…) more of a combat zone than a place of learning together” are what set the tone for this article. It is hard for this article to make an impact on me without the acknowledgement of the benefits, as the credibility of the arguments is hurt by the lack of acknowledgement of the other side.

From an objective point of view, this article doesn’t seek to make an academic argument, but rather a persuasive one. The use of emotive language throughout the text in the form of rhetoric questions and the author’s judgements on current events attempt to generate thought in the readers to consider alternate ways of pursuing academic success.

My thoughts on competition

While I agree that there are times in which competition takes a “predator vs. prey” form in the academic world and people’s everyday lives. I do not consider competition as an overall concept to be completely detrimental, in fact, I consider it to be more beneficial than detrimental in today’s society (especially in capitalist countries). While this view may seem pessimistic, I believe that when people compete, the stigma that a loss (which can come in various forms) brings to a person more often than not is at least part of what drives him/her forward in plenty of tasks.

In a contrast to abseq, this article did not turn me in favor of Hutcheon’s opinion, but it did make me acknowledge it.  Of course, from an individualistic perspective, competition has to be moderate, otherwise insecure mentalities which separate a person from others may develop. The views that both Hutcheon and Bateson hold in regards to competition are valid, but they do not constitute competition as a whole in the way that is expressed by both authors. In my view, competition is a concept that drives people forward so long as the people who are competing have a healthy mindset about it and are willing to learn in both victory and loss, like the two folks in the featured image. However, I understand that this is not always the case in reality, and am willing to leave room for unhealthy mindsets since I believe that the benefits of competition outweigh the detriments.

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