Reading Response: “Rhetoric & Competition” by Linda Hutcheon

“Rhetoric & Competition” is a scholastic article written by Canadian academic Linda Hutcheon, who is now a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.

In her article, Hutcheon discusses the growing competitive environment in the classroom. She aims to shine a light on this issue to promote a collaborative way of thinking as well as to disband the spread of agonistic behaviours in the academic world. Classrooms, where at once was merely a place of learning, is now a “place of wolves”.  It has gotten to the point where in order to thrive in this surrounding, one must possess a trait that favours arguments. Hutcheon describes an instance where she visited lectures in the humanities disciplines and noticed how in the philosophy lectures, the questions were “posed as aggressive attacks”, with the sole purpose of proving the speaker wrong. Rarely is there ever a pluralistic environment in classrooms as individuals constantly seek the title of the “solo scholar” as proof of their independence; this is due to the current situation in which succeeding solitarily is rewarded.

Similar articles regarding the topic of competition also relate to the argument Hutcheon is attempting to uphold; one of them being “The Myths of Independence and Competition” by Mary Catherine Bateson. The need for independence, as Bateson narrates, goes as far back as infancy whereby doing something on your own is rewarded, just like how Hutcheon depicts “solo scholars” to also be primarily rewarded. Hutcheon includes a quote from Jane Tompkins, where she portrays a situation in which a colleague is being scorned up until the point of the audience agreeing to what is being said. This is similar to the reference of the “Tower of Babel” by Bateson as citizens lose their ability to collaborate with each other due to the disparity of language. It is becoming more apparent in classrooms where it seems like the same language is not spoken anymore as seeing eye to eye is more scarce than frequent.

Another similar article, though more heavily based on research, is “Why do we believe in competition?” by Tobias Werron. The article first examines competition in the field of economics and eventually its expansion in non-economic fields, which Hutcheon views have been “translated into a status hierarchy of higher education”. The “wolfish” nature that education has become can be connected to Simmel’s theory of competition in which he views competition as a social form and how interaction in competition is not necessary.  Competition can lead to uniform thinking, which aligns with what Jane Tompkins previously said; creativity and innovation become limited as a result.

Although I am not a person with a competitive nature, I recognize its significance and association with success. Without competition, I would not be here. However, I can also relate to Hutcheon’s dissatisfaction with the growing agonistic behaviour in classrooms.  In some areas, I get that competition is a necessity to advance and to motivate an individual, in agreement to this authors post. Nevertheless, we must also acknowledge the benefits of unification and dependence as individualism can cause unnecessary tension and eventually lead to violent competition.


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