Reading Response: Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon


Reading Response: Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon

This reading response will provide an overview of the piece written by Linda Hutcheon titled, “Rhetoric and Competition”. It will also give an account of the similarities and differences between this work in addition to the commentary “The Myths of Independence and Competition” and research article, “Why do we believe in competition?” written by Bateson and Werron respectively.

Akin to Bateson’s work, Hutcheon writes about the perils of competition and urges readers to consider a more collaborative approach, particularly in the academic fields. Both writers touch on the harmful effects the societal focus on individuality and independence have in creating competition in what would ideally be collaborative environments. Bateson argues that independence is not only unpragmatic in our current society but that it is an illusion, giving the example of an endosymbiotic relationship found in our biology. Similarly Hutcheon also touches on the harmful effects of independent thinking in how the “current reward system values the work of the solo scholar” which breeds conflict and an adversarial environment among scholars. Furthermore Hutcheon also speaks to how there is no individual work in the academic world, rather she describes the production of knowledge as being an “additive process” which is reflected in how even counter-discourse is a response to dominant views. In accordance to an earlier response by alldayavery(, I agree that the main difference between the two works is the realm of focus. Bateson focuses on the importance of co-operation on a larger scale whereas Hutcheon’s writing is catered towards academic discourse.

Although Werron’s research article has more of a focus on providing an overarching view of the use of competition, it also bears some similarities to the piece by Hutcheon. Both writers talk about the idea of competition being a “zero-sum game” in which winning comes at the expense of another. Werron further goes to identify “artificial zero sum games” in which the idea that only one may be able to succeed at the cost of the rest, is in fact an illusion, he gives the example of the ranking of countries by the human development index. Similarly, Hutcheon suggests that academics have adapted an artificial zero sum game model which has created a culture of “subtractive logic” using the terms “either/or” she describes how scholars have adopted a very one sided perspective of topics, rather than keeping an expansive and open mind. As stated by others, Werron tends to keep a more neutral tone and simply describes the influence of competition while Hutcheon’s piece has a more persuasive tone in an attempt to convince the reader of the benefits of co-operation in an academic setting.

The definition of the word competition within the three texts tends to vary slightly. In referencing competition Hutcheon is referring to the enmity found in the academic workplace in the struggle for acclamation and recognition. Although it may be viewed as a zero-sum game, Hutcheon explains why it is in fact more of an artificial zero sum game as the pursuit of information is more of an additive process rather than the subtractive culture it has undertaken. Werron uses a mixture of the Simmelian perspective and recent constructivist approaches to define competition as being: “competitions for the favour of an audience that are (re-)produced by public comparisons of performances”. Bateson sees competition on a much broader scale and as an obstacle which hinders the public ability to work collaboratively. She defines the underlying tones of competition to stem from a cultural over emphasis on individuality and independence. Therefore, Bateson sees competition in a manner similar to Hutcheon but addresses it on a grander scale while Hutcheon observes competition within academia. However, Hutcheon’s definition of competition also overlaps with the definition provided by Werron, but also on a smaller scale. Werron’s overarching term of “favour of an audience” can be applied to the academic world examined by Hutcheon as academic recognition.

The format of the writings is also reflected in their purpose and the overall focus. Stylistically speaking, I believe that the work of Hutcheon resembles a combination of the features displayed in the works by Bateson and Werron. Bateson’s piece, as mentioned by several others, makes heavy use of first person in addition to broad examples and researchers. Bateson’s piece was also written with the intention of being performed as a speech and thus tends to be (in my opinion) easier to understand and almost makes use of colloquial language. Werron, being research article makes use of a general outline, headings and images all as visual aids to help the reader follow along. Furthermore, Werron makes heavy reference and explanation of different researchers with supporting studies, the language is also much more academic. Hutcheon’s piece draws elements from both works. It is a persuasive piece similar to Bateson but also draws upon heavy references to distinguished academics. 

In my opinion I believe that the piece written by Hutcheon raises many interesting questions and ideas. Hutcheon frequently references how academic institutions are “adopting a business model” which is an interesting viewpoint to make about the commercialization of institutions and of information. She also expands on how ideas such as capitalism and romanticism have taken a larger role in the academic world. Furthermore she states that “incentive and personal attack are the American way” and as others have pointed out are reflected in the 2016 US Presidential Elections, in which personal attacks were very frequent. This is interesting because of the way the public reacted to personal attacks as opposed to attacks on platforms or ideas; personal attacks are much easier concepts to grasp and appeal to a wider audience, reflecting our idea of progress by way of demolition. I liked how she countered the idea that conflict was a necessity for progress by stating that there were forms of critique that lacked critical thinking and did not aid in improvement. I agree with her view as I believe that constructive criticism in addition to an open mind are the only ways to further our current method of thought and does not at all need to be aggressive or through an “me vs them” mentality.


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