Tobias Werron’s writing in “Why do we Believe in Competition?” is a broad survey of the ideas and theories surrounding the concept of competition and how it evolved into the form we take-it-for-granted as today. He continually whittles the definition down by leading us through history and ideas until he approaches a nuanced definition that he believes we should use to inform future research and understandings of the topic and its place in society.
The form he chooses for the article is very structured. It’s as if he’s building the concept of competition from scratch, step by step from base to modern complex social phenomenon. His purpose is to show his audience what we may not know about the inner workings of competition. For example, relating to a course on infant psychology I’m currently taking, knowing the psychological development of infants helps us to understand adults and human nature generally. Knowing the process of development helps us to understand, diagnose, and mitigate problems that may arise.
When we put Werron’s article beside previous readings i.e. Bateson and Hutcheon, it is clear that the former is a research article with more of a field overview tone to it, and the latter two are more normative, opinion based commentaries on the state of competition and how it is failing us in various ways. Werron refrains from taking sides, pointing out various pros competition based economy was built on. He also highlights cons that skeptics and theorists became aware of after a period of ‘competitive free market’ idealization and, subsequently, its leakage into previous non-competitive social systems.
An interesting link between Hutcheon and Werron is their contrasting views on competition in the University. Hutcheon’s article is mostly concerned with the sort of competitive discourse that is burgeoning in academia. She urges us to re-conceptualize competition in a way that is more constructive i.e. both/and rather than either/or. Werron explains that competition works more positively in some fields like science and art (i.e. academia), as an engine for innovation and creativity, but more negatively in other fields where it creates an isomorphic economic and social landscape where competitors become the same for safety and stability because of the unknowability of the consumer and their interests and desires.
Salim Salimoff pointed out that recently he has been adopting an approach to life where he avoids looking for binary solutions to problems. I think that Werron is adopting this approach as well in his article. He doesn’t want to contribute a one sided approach, he wants a non-binary explanation that will lead to a more nuanced understanding and therefore, a more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Werron’s definition for competition ends up somewhere along the lines of ‘the struggle between two (or more) parties for the favour of a third party (an audience)’. I found the connection somewhat jarring between the three dimensions of communication mentioned in the class slides, and the three examples of symbolic capital that competitors compete for in their audiences. The former is made up of relevance (to an audience), Credibility, and Attention. The latter is made up of attention, legitimacy, and prestige. Credibility can be mapped on to legitimacy. Attention (obviously) lines up with attention. Prestige can take on the form of attention and credibility combined because humans tend to pay more attention and give more credibility to prestige even if it isn’t quite rational to do so. Finally, relevance to an audience is essential for both communication, and winning over that audience to, say, sell them a good. Selling ideas and selling goods require someone to listen, be convinced, and buy it based on the belief that it is worthy and credible. Communication is not free from the social realm of competition.
By Cole vonNiessen
1970 Chevrolet Lineup – This Is What Our Competition Is Going To Have To Live With. is a piece of digital artwork by Digital Repro Depot which was uploaded on October 16th, 2012: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1970-chevrolet-lineup-this-is-what-our-competition-is-going-to-have-to-live-with-digital-repro-depot.html.