Scarce Real Estate: The distraction of fundamental competition

Response to Werron’s article “Why Do We Believe in Competition?” by Zac Schaab

Frequently, when academics write about competition, they go about it in one of two ways. 1) They apply it to a specific social field, such as acadamia or environmental studies, and 2) will take a side on whether competition is positively or negatively effecting the production occuring within their chosen social field. Werron, however, take a seperate approach to the conversation around conversation. Instead of providing an op-ed centered on various positive and negative effects of competition in sociology, Werron takes a step back, providing indepth research on competition as a social form which effects all social fields at a fundemental level. Through historical looks at competition, exploration of the idea of zero-sum-game, defining competition as a social form, and posing further research questions from this new definition of competition, Warren provides a credibly and insightful look at the embedded nature of competition in every facet of society.

Dr. Tobias Warren, a professor of Sociological Theory and General Sociology at Universität Bielefeld, published his article in Distinktion: The Scandinavian Journal of Sociology under heading of a research article. In contrast to Hutcheon and Bateson, Warren’s article uses historical evidence and previously defined terms as provided evidence for both his research on competition and ability to draw a new definition for competition as a comclusion. This is a stark difference from the two previously mentioned authors, as the Bateson reading presented a transcribed speech which relied on anecdotes and touched briefly on ideas presented in multiple disciplines to break down competition in the face of an enviromental epoch, and the Hutcheon reading presented the authors personal bias on competition specifically within acadamia, using rhetorical defintions of latin words to help bolster her point, to call for a constructive new way of dialectics instead of direct competition. An interesting observation I took out of comparing these readings is that Warren doesn’t make a personal claim, or call to action, at the end of his research as included in the readings of the other two authors. Instead, he remains within the confines of his own research, acknowledging the limitations of the paper, and instead urges other researchers to use his research as a starting point for other sociological questions regarding competition.

Aside from the difference in form, there is another notable difference among the readings. The keyword in all three of the previously mentioned articles, competition, is not being used the same by all of the authors. For Bateson, competition is a false structure which goes against our fundamental nature of codependance. She relies on the notion that what is natural is, inherently, more correct, and views competition as a negative factor in her social field. Hutcheon also uses this negative view of competition, viewing it as an unfortunate bi-product caused by the development of debate and the word ‘agon’ within the context of acadamia. As previously stated, this does not line up with Warren’s more objective use of competition in his study, which instead focuses on it’s fundamental inclusion in western ideology and day-to-day life.

The point of the article which I found, personally, the most insightful and engaging is the idea that competition can be clearly thought of as a social form if the scarce good in zero-sum-game is the attention of the consumer instead of a material good. This broader concept is incredibly helpful, not only within the discepline of sociology, but can be used by almost any social field to help explain the role competition takes when navigating a specific field. I immediatly thought of social media when reading this new definition of a scarce good, as social media companies are often competing for the most active memers or the highest amount of engagements, even if they are owned by the same parent company. The competition for attention is built into our cellphones from the start as we choose which company to pledge ourselves to for a two year contract, which then continues to the variety of stimuli which asks for your attention, and distracts you, during day to day use. Media is just one social field that this can apply to, and for another example, Sophia Wilson provides a look at acadamia with this context of competition.

Competition, whether you view it positively or negatively, is always going to be evident in daily life. Warren successful breaks down the notion that competition is caused directly by neo-libral politics, and instead acknowledges the fundemental truth of competition as a social form. There is always going to be a scarce good. Nobody can have everything. Zero-sum-game shows that the success of one always comes at the cost to a competitor. Although this is not always immediatly evident, it is true in the majority of cases. Although this gain at the cost of the other is shown among the competitors, what does this do to the scarce good. If attention is the good that social fields are competiting for, does this constant vie for the viewer force a neccessary distraction onto the masses? Or are people able to critically think about their attention as a good, restricting prime real estate to only a few social fields out of the millions attempting to capture it?

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