Reading Response: RHETORIC AND COMPETITION by Linda Hutcheon

Competition has been a part of the history of mankind ever since the beginning of time without existing in conscious thought. Beneficial or detrimental, competition- ever since taking the shape of a breathing identity- has crept in almost all disciplines of the world over a span of about three centuries. It has managed to become one of the strongest premises of the everyday tasks of an individual to the laws governing a nation. Hutcheon’s, Werron’s and Bateson’s contributions to the field of rhetoric, cooperation, and competition bestow valuable insights to our understanding of what competition really is and how we perceive it.

Hutcheon vs Werron

Though belonging from absolutely contrasting backgrounds, Hutcheon’s views on ‘rhetoric and competition’ and Werron’s article on ‘historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalized modern imaginary’ start off from a common point stating that interest in ‘competition’ has expanded with the rise of neo-liberal market or the ideology of free-market capitalism (WP02, HP02). Werron’s article, thereafter, structures itself as an expansion over three centuries of critique over ‘competition’ by various scholars of the respective period, whereas Hutcheon, in order to support her critical perception of competition, pulls over a variety of negative views on competition as well as insights of people influenced by competition (HP05).

Further, we understand that Werron attempts to draw a fine line between competition and conflict by enlisting the fact that a sine qua non for conflict is negating interaction between the involved parties whereas competition is not the social form that requires interaction as a prerequisite(WP07). While looking over Hutcheon’s article in a similar context, we can derive an observation from her citings that she has not necessarily separated conflict from competition, suggesting that the main goal of any party in professional and intellectual systems of competition is destruction of the opposition (HP08) as opposed to Werron’s argument that the main goal of competition is to take possession of a good that is perceived as scarce (WP08). However, at this point in their respective writings, both agree that competition can take the form of a zero-sum game (HP08, WP08).

Hutcheon attempts to describe competitive culture using the words like combat, adversarial and ‘agon’- a Greek word connoting contest, debate and struggle, thereby shedding a pessimistic rays on what we today perceive as competition(HP05) whereas Werron endeavors to provide a holistic view of competition, highlighting the optimism as well as the pessimism contained in the word itself which ‘cautions us against premature conclusions regarding the role and legitimacy of competition in modernity, as well as against seeing the expansion of competitive forms just as an outcome of the recent rise of neo-liberal market ideology’ (WP60).

As we progress further, Hutcheon attempts to build the image of competition as an exclusive identity for a complete system in contrast to co-operation as a more inclusive concept. She undertakes an effort to shift the notion of the word counter-discourse from the shadow of competition to the light of cooperation by rephrasing terdiman’s formula from ‘a contrary and transgressive counter-discourse’ to ‘a complimentary and inclusive counter-discourse.’ She tries to paint a fresh picture of counter-discourses as constructive identities for their base discourses, but still critical so as for the betterment of the main purpose to be achieved by the main discourse and therefore establishes her view of achievement of societal goals not by competition but by cooperation (HP12-15). Werron, on the other hand poses a neutral, unbiased view of competition in his analysis and urges to ‘investigate in more detail how the various factors involved in the social construction of the form “competition for the favor of the audience” work together in the long-term institutionalization of such forms of competition in various societal fields’(WP60).

To sum up, I feel that, even while standing in black and grey backgrounds, Hutcheon’s normative view of competition along with Werron’s historical-sociological analysis of competition has managed to give us a fuller insight of competition and widened our horizons about the former prolifically.

Hutcheon vs Bateson

Bateson and Hutcheon’s articles ‘The Myths of Independence and Competition’ and ‘Rhetoric and Competition’ even though have one word in common, ‘competition (as a word)’ has managed to take them on parallel journeys in changing our perceptions from ‘contest to cooperation (Hutcheon)’ and ‘individualism to interdependence (Bateson).’ In a visual form, I feel that Hutcheon and Bateson stand on the opposite sides of a diameter of a circle (being parallel), but, they unite themselves by walking towards the same point to unite us all for the achievement of global purposes.

The writings of Bateson and Hutcheon begin from different views but aim to achieve a common purpose. Bateson motivates the reader to perceive himself not as an individual, rather, as a part of a complete group, a species. She urges the reader to view himself as part of the same environment as his fellow reader is, thus incorporating a sense of sharing and therefore, a different kind of interdependence. By citing examples from Bible, Darwin and her father, Gregory Bateson, she compels to view himself as an individual connected with the environment through many inter-relationships and therefore drives him to join hands with others for the achievement of required goals.

Hutcheon, on the other hand, forces the reader to think beyond agonistics and combat and find a new way to work together. To achieve this goal, Hutcheon uses a direct comparison between competition and cooperation. She further illustrates that competition today has taken a violent form, where the only remaining goal is the destruction of the opposition and contrasts it with collaborative cooperation. Conflict, being a subtractive process stands in direct opposition of interdependence, an additive process. Hutcheon walks us through such comparisons so as to help us move from individual thinking to collaborative thinking.

Hutcheon and Bateson start their respective journeys from opposite points in the single-colored spectrum and come together at the whitest spot, thereby, enlightening us with their empirical views.


1 Comment

  1. Hey Aru!!

    I love your use of the word “empirical” in the last line! I find that your closing was a really strong summative conclusion. I can agree that they both find them selves at the other end of their respective spectrums. But did you feel like that was the way it was going throughout Hutcheon’s article? Or did it come as a surprise?


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