Why the competition between cooperation and competition?

Reading response to Molina et al. by Sophia Wilson

Molina et all takes a refreshingly non-deterministic view of competition and cooperation. The perspective of the article from social anthropology is the cooperation is not a response to competition but a tangent social construct by which we all live our lives and structure our societies. This is a more stark departure from previous readings, particularly Bateson and Hutcheon, and even to an extent, Werron. Cooperation serves its place, but it is not in active competition with competition itself for social importance.

Their tempered and academically geared toned is directed at a colleagues in their field who will be reading Anthropology today, a well established journal in the field. Though brief, it still gives a very thorough overview of past and current theories and mechanisms that explain the social evolution. Werron and Molina et al. are framing their arguments by appealing to colleagues and drawing from evidence in the form of past scholars and historically accepted social forms/constructs. Their position is not confrontational nor is it pleading, which can be seen in both Hutcheon and Bateson. Instead of making a broader point about the nature of competition, which is deemed to be inherently negative by Bateson and Hutcheon, Molina et al. are contributing to the larger discussion about the role and function of competition and cooperation in society. Like Werron, competition is not inherently negative or positive, it simply exists as a mechanism for society to persist along with cooperation. In my view, it contributes a stronger perspective to the conversation of competition than Werron since they are proposing a stance on how to view the interplay between competition and cooperation and not just a new definition for competition itself. This is my personal perspective of the reading which I am sure that others will disagree on, but still I feel it to be a a valid differentiation between Werron and Molina et al.

In these theories, past social societies depended on cooperation for survival as individuals whose survival and success depends on cooperation from a group. The same mechanisms still exist today, though it is arguably more nuanced. Competition within groups for predominance and between groups exists, but cooperation is not seen as a reaction to competition that has occurred but competition that might occur, which can be deemed to be undesirable to the welfare of one group and others. Alternatively, competition also serves a valuable social function to distinguish members in a group, creating a defined social hierarchy. In the examples of the different way that cooperation and competition work in different social structures, such as the tribes, peasant village, and hunter-gather bands, this interplay between cooperation and competition is a recurring pattern. Competition serves a social service inside a group and for survival but competition to the point where social members do not basic needs met, whether in food security or safety, is ultimately undesirable, and that is where cooperation fills its social role.

I find it interesting that this paper dances around the subject in there analysis of the three different types of societies that these societies function under the notion that competition is an innate threat when dealing with other people, and thus possibly of human nature itself. People in these societies weigh the risks of competing vs cooperation, and when they cooperate, great care is put into whether or not it is advantageous to the individual or group. This might be a personal projection of my own opinion of competition, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider.

Today, when dealing with climate change, this concept that cooperation and competition both serve valuable social forms that coexist is essential to meeting the challenge. In a post written by Monty Lussow, competition is seen to be a very valuable tool in fighting climate change, exemplified in regulating emissions from companies in the form of cap and trade technologies. I study environment and sustainability and I agree that competition is incredibly valuable tool, especially in technology development and economic transitioning, but cooperation serves as a binding element for society to rally and meet a larger social goal of mitigating climate change. Competition is a widely accepted mechanism and social form that can be applied as a part of a solution to a multitude of fields, whether that be policy, industry standards, technology, alternative energy development, etc., but even those who compete are cooperating by working towards the larger goal of offering solutions for the well-being of the Earth and society.

Photo credit: Longford child care: https://longfordchildcare.ie/working-together/working-together-2/


  1. I appreciate your take on this article and the points you have made in your conclusion. In particular how you tie it back to the environment and the challenges all species, including ourselves, face on a global level. Unlike Bateson’s attempt to cast competition as an evil obstacle and the root cause of our inability to address issues such as climate change, you highlight the advantages of competition in trying to address climate change. I do agree that we need competition between manufacturers when it comes to reduction of emissions through cap and trade systems. I agree that completion is essential for coming up with new technologies to replace existing high emission technologies that we use in our every day life and manufacturing.

    I stumbled upon this article, in which Sir David Attenborough declares to world leaders at Davos forum that:”humans have power to exterminate whole ecosystems ‘without even noticing’



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