Linda Hutcheon’s article, Rhetoric and Competition: Academic Agonistics is demonstrative of the way in which our contemporary definition of competition, or “agonism” as she states it, currently impacts the productive function of constructive criticism within academic institutions. Through her article, Hutcheon argues that the current form of competition within academic circles, which mirrors the individualistic practices of corporations within a free-market economy, is negatively interfering with the positive function which critical analysis was intended to exemplify. Hutcheon asserts that individuals within the academic field are acting upon the perceived concept of “zero-sum gain” in which they seek to benefit themselves only at the cost of others. She argues that this is done in contrary to the proper function of an academic institution, which is to prioritize the learning of the community over the success of individuals.
Hutcheon goes into depth describing the specific behavior demonstrated by academic officials as they attempt to overthrow one another in order to gain personal recognition, describing it as “wolf-like”, and that of the mob mentality. She addresses potential theories for the cause of this, including whether male-focused competitive values are at play within the community, but ultimately settles on the theory of “Critique scholarship”, which states that individuals are actively taught to adopt “an attitude of contempt toward scholars who work in a different theoretical framework”.
Hutcheon proceeds to suggest methods by which the community may move away from its current problematic state, and further towards one of productive interdependence. She argues that this can only be achieved if the attitude found within counter-discourse were to shift from that of being contrary and transgressive, and ultimately violent by nature, to a tone of instead being complimentary and inclusive, ultimately promoting scholastic progress. Hutcheon concludes by stating that once the process of rethinking counter-discourse has taken place, and the community has progressed from an agonistic mentality to one that is accretive, a collaborative and constructive medium may be achieved.
Comparing Hutcheon and Bateson:
Similarly to Hutcheon’s argument in Rhetoric and Competition: Academic Agonistics, Mary Catherine Bateson demonstrates a similar perspective in her societal commentary entitled The Myths of Independence of Competition. While Hutcheon asserts the importance of interdependence and collaboration within the academic community, Bateson uses examples found within human biology to demonstrate the significance of acknowledging our interdependent nature. While Hutcheon’s method reflects on the negatives associated with a body of individuals who refuse to act upon initiatives toward shared success, Bateson’s method extrapolates from the benefits of cooperation found on the biological level of humans in order to assert the idea that interdependence is necessary for human society to thrive. While the fields of research, as well as the methods utilized by both Hutcheon and Bateson differ greatly, they both arrive at the same conclusion, which is that human society benefits most substantially when individuals work together to achieve common goals. Hanan Dudin sums up the way in which the two authors complement each other’s works very well, where they state that “The variety and diversity in the exploration of the different themes behind competition by each of these authors is admirable and they are all definitely contributions to the literary discourse around competition each in their own way.”
While I personally agree with the assertions by both Hutcheon and Bateson that interdependence and collaboration are essential to the function of certain fields within society, it seems as though both authors antagonize the concept of competition entirely. While I understand that in order to formulate their respective arguments, Hutcheon and Bateson needed to focus on the negative aspects associated with competition, however, I don’t believe that competition should be neglected entirely. I believe that it is important to acknowledge the capitalistic origins of the current state of our society, as well as to celebrate the technological innovations which the competitive aspect of our free market economy provides us on a daily basis. It is competition that contributes to innovation (within the proper context) and it is essential to promote competition within the context of the free market if we are to advance our industrialized society. I believe that a line can be drawn between interpersonal contexts and the motivations of corporations, and that interdependence, as well as competitive nature, can be asserted within their respective circumstances.