Reading response: Competition and Collaboration

In the article Rhetoric and Competition, Linda Hutcheon provides an interesting angle on counter discourse in academia, and how critical thinking can be shared in a more substantive manner through co-operation instead of combative techniques. Her angle on “wolfish high education” is very relevant today as we are currently seeing a shift in University discussion approaches from in class debate style tutorials which can be intimidating for some, to online discussions, which in turn can be more additive in information as a whole. Increasing levels of communication technology are bringing new approaches of collaboration and community discussions. Rather than sinking another person’s intellect, it is more productive to have constructive criticism and collaborate than to simply win the zero-sum game. As discussed in this course lecture, there is an important difference between truth and validity. Rather than continuing to have a black or white reasonings, productive academic discussions can flourish through compromise and intersections of ideas.

Her angle on ancient Greece and Western culture playing a role in our competitive inclination in academic discussion also raises the question of our Eurocentric tendencies to overlook other types of education strategies. For example, many Asian cultures tend to be much more collaborative such as the Japanese education curriculum. Marierohmova makes a great point in her blog post that competition is “hindering our scientific progress”, instead of the full potential of collaborative discourse. Hence, perhaps it is time to focus on a more collaborative approaches in our education systems as seen in Asian developed nations.

Hutcheon continues her argument towards the economic political system of Western societies in relation to our aggressive academic techniques. Capitalist market economies transcends in our academic approaches. Comparatively, Mary Bateson also touches this in her journal article, through the analogy of the Babylon tower, dividing populations to prevent them to collaborate on “the solutions of life”. Hutcheon on the other hand uses the term “Agon” in Greeks philosophy of coming together through competition. These philosophical perspectives resonate from the political structures, all the way to the idea of the “self” within a community. Nevertheless, in her article, Hutcheon ironically opens a discourse for us to reflect upon. Does the status quo of aggressive debate education need to be reformed, and are there better ways through more additive collaborative formats of education? Through rapid globalization and merging of cultures, Hutcheon’s and Bateson’s arguments demonstrate that the time for collaboration in academic discourse techniques has never been better than right now.


Hutcheon, L. (2003). RHETORIC AND COMPETITION: Academic Agonistics. Common Knowledge,9(1), 42-49

Bateson, M. C. (2016). The myths of independence and competition: Myths of independence. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 33(5), 674-677. doi:10.1002/sres.2424

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  1. Hey there!

    First off, I’d like to appreciate your discussion of the productivity of constructive criticism as opposed to “sinking” others’ ideas. I fully agree, and it seems that both Bateson and Hutcheon approach this issue with a similar view. Thank you for bringing to attention the difference between Bateson’s Babylon tower analogy and Hutcheon’s reference to Greek term ‘agon;’ this comparison sheds light on the difference in structures of these two articles. While they argue a similar point–cooperation is more functional than competition in many circumstances–Bateson approaches forming the argument by showing how humanity has been divided, while Hutcheon dissuades the belief that ‘agon’ insinuates competition and instead begins to unite humanity with a “new subjective truth.”

    On another note, your comment about Western culture really brought up some important things for me: having been raised in the pacific northwest in a liberal city, traditional Western culture was disseminated in my childhood. I personally have very strong opinions about the structure of a learning environment due to my experience with different types of supportive and not-so-supportive learning environments. I was homeschooled from grade 3 to grade 9 before I attended a public high school, and my parents got me involved in a community learning centre where teachers and parents taught classes that had been approved by the administration. This open teaching style resulted in a wide variety of interesting classes in every discipline imaginable, and it mixed traditional topics with things like improv theatre, poetry and photography. No grades were established, and attendance (under teachers’ knowledge) was a choice. This resulted in kids choosing to be at school learning. Classes were never structured with desks in rows–if we were at desks, we were in a circle or a more discussion-friendly shape. This simple change resulted in teachers and students being more like peers than authority vs. student, and it encouraged open communication, discussion and the asking of any kind of questions. The culture of the centre made it easy to be bold, ask “stupid” questions (because they were never discouraged as stupid) and be interested and passionate about learning.

    I agree with your statement and Bateson’s and Hutcheon’s arguments that Western academic culture is slowing our advancement–in science and every other discipline.


  2. In expansion to my discussion above, this learning environment allowed for majorly additive learning, in which ideas were heard and responded to with a “yes, and…” approach. I learned much more from this style than sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture, and I find that WRDS 150 with Michael Schandorf closely encapsulates the necessary open discussion needed for additive, supportive academic discourse culture.


  3. Hi,

    Thanks for your insightful comment, I really find it interesting that you were homeschooled and educated in an unconventional manner compared to traditional authoritative techniques we have had over the past century. As you described this is beginning to change in the B.C. elementary education curriculum. New education approaches are being revised such as the elimination of the conventional grading system. Instead we are seeing portfolios of all student’s previous work on virtual online systems, which encourages all student’s participation and more additive learning through discourse and personal improvement, rather than competing. So, it was definitely interesting to hear your viewpoint of being taught in homeschool which incorporates many different academic learning approaches that probably vary from what I have experienced in the public education system.


  4. Hello, this is a very insightful read!
    I like how you compared Bateson’s analogy of the tower of Babylon and Hutcheon’s take on the word ‘agon’ to compare the differences between each author’s arguments. It is interesting how you bring up the difference of how Bateson interprets competition as diversion (division of a group of people) compared to how Hutcheon views competition as convergence (coming together through competition).

    I am also very interested in the point you brought up about the Japanese education system and how it encourages cooperation. If I understand correctly, the Japanese education system (and education in Asia in general) hugely promotes conformity. There is a huge emphasis on discipline, cooperation, and conformity, and although these can definitely have positive effects on students, there are also a number of issues that arise in Japan schools due to the enforcement of such values. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a Japanese saying that sums up how those who defy the standards of society are treated. This ultimately causes individuals to comply to societal standards and cooperate with the majority out of fear of being stigmatized. This also causes people to show contempt for those who are different.

    Both Bateson and Hutcheon shine cooperation in a positive light, but I feel like with the example of the Japanese education system, the huge emphasis on cooperation in turn causes individuals to conform to societal standards out of fear for being stigmatized.
    Would you think, in this case, that cooperation would paradoxically cause contempt?


  5. I remember reading a book called The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, where the author described a situation from his time as a university professor in charge of preparing a class of horrendously under-prepared medical students for an exam to get them admitted into their program. It was a class for those who failed the exam before and were behind their more successful peers in every aspect.

    Instead of fostering the typical ´wolfish´ atmosphere so typical of these situations, the professor got all of his students to cooperate with each other preparing for the exam.

    This situation struck me as the ideal world Hutcheon would be trying to achieve with her cooperation in academics and also proves that it is indeed possible and even better than all the antagonism in academics.


  6. @cc1218503 As you said there are drawbacks with the Japanese education system as well, however there are some qualities within the system that prepare youth to enter the work-field. Rather than standardized individual tests, putting more emphasis as working in teams, organizing, and having a more collaborative thinking on academic projects, prepares youth for almost all types of employment. The Japanese have an approach to perceive the classroom being a home setting, the group being a type of family, rather than competitors. When you say that it “causes individuals to comply to societal standards and cooperate with the majority out of fear of being stigmatized”, one could also make the case that this encourages the group to not letting one fall behind and supporting their teammates, creating overall more productive results and motivation through collaboration. My point was that both Bateson and Hutcheon’s arguments of having more emphasis on collaboration, is exactly what we should do in regards to education system; look outwards for a combination of new strategies to better prepare youth in a globalizing future where multiple world-views are going to merge together.


  7. @marierohmova Thanks for your comment,

    Thats a great example that you bring up, and underlines the importance of collaboration, often overlooked as Bateson and Hutcheon explain in their articles.


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