In this reading response I will be discussing Rethoric and Competition, a journal article by Linda Hutcheon’s, a professor in the department of linguistics and the speech Myths of independence and competition, by M.C. Bateson, a well reputed anthropologist. While Hutcheon’s article provides profoundly more detail, both texts provide good evidence for their arguments, are written in first person point of view and use similar literary devices, such as metaphors, analogies and jargon.
Linda Hutcheon’s Rethoric and Competition, is about her belief that higher education and academia in general has become a war-zone, in which scholars fight or compete with each other instead of collaborating and combining knowledge profiting one another, not only oneself. Similar to Bateson’s Myths of independence and competition, competition is depicted as the trouble-maker. Bateson argues that the emphasis on individualism and competition, especially in Western societies, is leading to conflict and malfunctioning of society. She believes that only if people work together, as a collective, could the most challenging global issues facing humanity be solved. Hutcheon too, believes that competition is the problem. However, she focuses her writing specifically on the competitive nature of higher education and academia, created through the individualistic struggle for success.
Hutcheon argues that higher education has become hierarchical institute in which academics follow a model of “corporate capitalism”, driven by the individual through the agon (Which in her opinion is strongly associated with ‘fierce competition’). She explains that critical thinking is rightfully valued, but that nowadays people tend to rather try to demolish the opposing position instead of constructively questioning it. Bateson on the other hand talks about how the world becomes increasingly individualistic and how lack of communication and collectivism is ultimately leading to conflict. The competition Hutcheon and Bateson are talking about seem to be quite different. Hutcheon speaks about solo-driven, success hungry individuals, who try to not only become the best, but also try to push down one another. Bateson on the other hand talks about a competition that can be substituted with individualistic focus- not a real competition, involving the loss for the opposition, but rather a lack of communication and interdependence.
Hutcheon provides counter arguments to some of her ideas – e.g. includes the idea of Peter Elbow : “Without contraries is no progression”. She agrees to an extend, but challenges this idea. She is writing about constructive critique and exemplifies such herself in this text. Bateson doesn’t do that. She does not provide any counter arguments and takes a very clear and strong opposing position, entirely focussing on the negative outcomes of competition. She ignores the usefulness of competition, which in my opinion, weakens her overall argument.
Personally I don’t quite agree with some of the arguments in Hutcheon’s article – more so than in Bateson’s. The first one is exactly what I’m doing right now – challenging ideas. In her opinion modern scholars seem to not just challenge arguments or compete fairly but rather follow a model in which “the opposition must be destroyed”. I disagree with that statement. While I agree that competition usually involves winners and losers, I don’t believe that this individual struggle for success in academics ( with cultured, knowledgeable individuals ) is as evil-spirited as depicted.
Bateson says ‘collectivism over individualism’ and Hutcheon says ’cooperation over competition’. Although agreeing to an extend, I think it’s very important to note that competition and individualism are an integral and useful part of life. As far as I’m concerned, competition and individualism in academia is especially useful for filtering out the experts in fields. Without favouring groups of people with the greatest potential for success in their discipline, society wouldn’t advance. However, once at the top of their discipline, these individuals should indeed take notice of Bateson’s and Hutcheon’s arguments, since cooperation of the brightest minds instead of fierce competition could lead to even more enhanced development of societies.
I agree with what Linda said in her reading response to competition : “ It would be great if as a whole we could all work together but at some level competition will always be present and always be needed.“ ( https://mschandorf.ca/author/garlandbr/ )
Hutcheon discuses a feminists perspective in which Helene Cixous argues that the increasing aggressiveness and competition in the academy, as well as the hierarchical and bureaucratic nature of institutions is the result of a patriarchal history and a “time governed by phallocentric values”. Hutcheon challenges this idea to a small extent. She says the “ubiquity of the agonistic struggle” shows that this issue “is not entirely one of gender”. I disagree with Helene and find such ideological views rather dangerous. By blaming groups instead of encouraging positive change society becomes increasingly segregated. ( And as a result more individualistic and competitive. ) No evidence at all is provided to support her argument. Contrary so, Bateson and Hutcheon actually provide evidence supporting the opposition. Bateson discusses the increasing focus on individualism and independence in North America in the post-modernity and Hutcheon discusses the increasingly competitive nature of higher education. As such increased, the percentage of females enrolled in higher education greatly trumped the one of males. The correlation between increased levels of competition and individualism in times of women’s empowerment and higher enrolment in academia is in no way good evidence for a causal relationship between the two. It is, however good evidence for the falsification of Helene’s statement. In addition hierarchical systems have existed for millions of years. As I just recently read in a book by the psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, hierarchical structures have existed for more than 350 millions years. A hierarchy, therefore, seems to be an integral part of nature and not a consequence of a “patriarchal” society.
Overall, I do agree with Hutcheon’s and Bateson’s main ideas.
A harmonic, collective cooperation indeed seems better than individualistically driven solo success, in which the academy is more of a war-zone than “a place of learning together” and a world in which everyone works together, preventing conflict and disaster and potentially solving the most challenging global issues facing humanity, seems better than the individualistically and conflict driven society of the present.
However, I find it extremely important to challenge such utopian ideas to realistically change the world for the better.