Reading Response: Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon


Linda Hutcheon is a Canadian academic and English professor at the University of Toronto.  Hutcheon has served as the president of the Modern Language Association of America.  She is the author of Rhetoric and Competition: Academic Agonistics, and in this article, Hutcheon argues that competition has made academics into an institution for the belittling and demolishing; to do so, she builds her argument based on the language of competition.

Academia is an institution that celebrates the pinnacle of intellectual achievements but also a wolfish playground fostered by competition in a model that mirrors the one of corporate capitalism, which Linda Hutcheon claims has turned the academy into a vicious arena for the attack and belittling of the opposition: the result of the ill use of core academic skill: critical thinking.  According to Hutcheon, aggressive banter and demolishing other viewpoints fall under the umbrella of agon: a Greek term “connoting contest, debate, and struggle” (Hutcheon, 44), which draws a similar connection to Mary Bateson’s reference to the “survival of the greatest” idea derived from Darwinism in Myths and Independence.  Although Werron’s research article on competition differs from both the method Hutcheon and Bateson used to structure their arguments, and more importantly, his position, all three articles are centred around the language of competition.

Rather than being defined by verbal battles, agon was originally meant the gathering of people, which models cooperation more so than competition.  With this idea behind, Hutcheon implies the irony of perceiving the academy as a place of the dispute to the zero-sum game.  Bateson’s argument follows a similar pattern to Hutcheon, but she uses scientific facts to support her claim that humans are biologically interdependent, which makes competition between individuals a non-existent practice.  I found that Hutcheon’s reference to the zero-sum game furthers a connection towards political concepts, where the struggle for power is based on one individual gaining only from another’s loss, thus suggesting the redundancy of competition.  This draws a parallel to Bateson’s argument that competition is non-existent because biologically and theoretically, humans are dependent on each other.   Being that Hutcheon, Bateson, and Werron arrive from different academic backgrounds, it can be assumed that combined together, all three articles represent a dynamic of perspectives in terms of competition.  As a foremost literary academic, Hutcheon’s argument is centred around the toxic effects of competition specific to academia, whereas Bateson disproves competition as an illogical and illegitimate construct, and Werron neither support nor oppose competition.  His expertise in sociology requires the exploration for both sides of the spectrum–politically and economically, which results into a set of work that defines the underlying ideas and terms behind competition within the political economy.  In that respect, it is up to the audience to identify whether competition is beneficial.

Hutcheon’s discussion of competition characterizes the academic institution as overbearing and manipulative by fostering rhetoric around the essentiality of competition.  I agreed with Hutcheon’s mentioning of the “clever and articulate” (Hutcheon, 43) as individuals who dominate academic life because they embody the personality type that tolerates and functions naturally in competition primarily because it leads me to infer to Plato’s gold, silver, and bronze philosophy found in The Republic.  To Plato, different metals represent different groups of people.  Bronze may be inexpensive in comparison to gold, but its role in providing the utmost military convenience with its strength is unparalleled and irreplaceable.  We can then link this theory to the modern convention that different occupations require a different set of capabilities and talents, making some individuals more suited to one occupation than another.  Linking back to Hutcheon’s argument: if individuals exhibit a range of personalities, it is unjustified for academia to favour one personality over another because it manipulates the interests of individuals to reflect the interests of the institution.

I was concerned with the irony of Hutcheon approaching prevalent issues in academic competition with extreme dissatisfaction and ill use of critique: both are practices she condemned.  Yet, it could be inferred that Hutcheon recognizes this counterargument when she discussed her solution of resolving every discourse with a “complementary and inclusive counter-discourse,” which referenced to Edward Said, author of Culture and Imperialism, who arrived at the conclusion that engaging in counter-discourse is not “parasitic” or “complicit” upon the other” (Said, 1993).  It is thus imperative for resistance to dominant discourses to take place because it leads a direction of viewing ideas and works across academia in grey, rather than black and white.  In this respect, I find Hutcheon associating collaboration as an academic as well as a political purpose inspirational to the advancement of feminist ideas that have long been disputed and debated.


#ASTU 101, #P05, #dispute, #competition, #Hutcheon, #Bateson #comparison

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