Reading Response-Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon

Rhetoric and competition is an research article published in 2003 written by Linda Hutcheson. The article describes the issue of competition in academia. Hutcheson continued by describing how competition causes contention within the academy, such as how its rhetoric emphasizes on how articulate one needs to be to defeat its “adverseries”, treating colleagues as enemies that should be condemned. Hutcheson concluded by disagreeing on the status quo, and wished for alternatives such as collaboration to curb the aggressiveness of competitive behavior.

All three articles (Bateson, Werron and Hutcheon) focused on competition, albeit different aspects. Bateson looked at the importance of interdependence on humans, where Werron gave a detailed historical and contemporary analysis on societal but also economic dimensions of competition. Hutcheon on the other hand looked at the current state of academic competition and discourse. Upon further examination, there are also similarities and differences in the examples presented. For example, the concept of a zero-sum game is presented in both Bateson and Werron. Bateson referred to a zero sum game as evidence against competition, where one’s gain is the lost of another. Werron however referred to how the idea of zero sum games are introduced to from economic to non-economic realms, such as Sports.

The articles are also structured differently, designed to cater different readers and discourse communities. Hutcheon, which focuses on literary theory, focuses on examples which are more relevant to her field of research. It is written as an research article, demonstrated by its use of vocabulary and length. It is also published in Common Knowledge, an academic journal published by the Duke University press. Bateson, a cultural anthropologist focuses on areas such as system sciences on her article. Her article is also derived from a speech, which is shorter in length but also includes a degree of persuasiveness, oriented towards her intended audience. Werron, a sociologist, takes into account multiple social phenomenons in his article. Werron and Hutcheon provided a more open ended conclusion, calling for more research on respective issues on competition. Bateson on the other hand not only provided a critique on competition, but also argued how interdependence is true human nature rather than competition.

Competition as Werron has mentioned, could also be analyzed and critiqued with Marxist thought. Some socialists believe that the capitalist economic system alienates people and pushes people into competition. Socialism views humans as social creatures united by their common human identity; hence competition in itself is nothing more than a ‘neoclassical’ ploy. Socialists in its ideology prefers human collaboration, which I think provides a better alternative not only economically but also in other fields such as academia, which Hutcheon’s article referred to. The toxicity of competition is apparent; the poor masses who ‘lost’ the zero sum game is deprived of opportunity, living in poor conditions such as cage housing in Hong Kong. People are still starving, despite the ‘1%’ holding 50% of the world’s wealth. Although comparisons with Soviet Russia and Mao’s China are valid, as stated by Oliver Bontkes, one could argue that technological advancements in the modern day reduces the need to compete for scarce resources, hence making economic cooperation more possible. Humans may not be well organized by authoritarian regimes, but democratic forms of economic cooperation such as trade unions and cooperatives has been proven to work. 

As Bateson stated, she hoped that changes are made before ‘academy becomes an even more wolfish place.’ Although meritocratic ability and critical thinking has been proven to bring new breakthroughs in human development, examples such as confrontational academic elites (Bateson), or the endemic inequality in our society brought by competition causes more harm than cooperation. In our postmodern world, cooperation among humans might be the alternative we need.


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