Do Cooperation and Competition Always Coexist?

A social anthropological approach is taken by J.L. Molina et al. to investigate cooperation and competition as they exist in human society. Distinguishing itself from the previous articles (i.e. Bateson, Hutcheon, Werron), this article’s initial focus is on cooperation rather than competition. However, from the beginning, Molina et al. argue that cooperation and competition are not mutually exclusive – the two are said to complement one another. One primary mechanism for the evolution of cooperation is identified as reciprocity, which focuses on “mutualistic cooperation as an individual strategy for more effective competition.” This statement clearly conveys the notion that cooperation and competition go hand in hand. Molina et al. go on to state that social anthropology examines both cooperation and competition simultaneously and their relation to one another, concluding that their coexistence is undeniable.

Briefly, I want to mention that Molina et al. identify the role of cooperation and competition within societies along a historical timeline. Initial foraging societies show characteristics of promoting cooperation and preventing competition in small groups. Moving forward, however, the growing prevalence of competition in the later tribal societies is seen. Molina et al. pinpoint this emergence of competition as a major contributor to social stratification and inequality.

Similarly, Sophia’s response to this article also acknowledges the role of competition in establishing social hierarchies that draw distinctions between individuals and/or groups. Sophia states that societies weigh the risks of engaging in cooperation versus competition, while highlighting the common notion that a competitive model inevitably produces conflict between individuals. However, Sophia – who uses environmental sustainability as an example – sees importance in incorporating a balanced model of cooperation and competition in working toward an end-goal. This notion of balancing cooperation and competition is intriguing to me as it challenges my predisposition to think of cooperation and competition as a binary dichotomy.

My background in sociology causes me to see competition from a conflict theory approach. This goes back to the idea that competition is central to the stratification of the various groups and individuals that exist within a larger social circle. I want to build on Molina et al.’s examination of the role that competition has played within societies over time.

Although Molina et al. attempt to demonstrate that competition and cooperation coexist within all societies, I question whether this holds true in the modern capitalist society. My sociological theories class introduced me to the works of Karl Marx, which included looking at his book, Capital. In it, Marx describes a capitalist system as a manifestation of competition within a free economic society. This is to say that capitalism, in theory, encourages a competitive market so that both the consumer and producer benefit in the circulation of commodities. Within a market, this would ideally reward the commodities of the highest quality with the lowest price (while punishing commodities of lower quality or higher price), which would ultimately create a fair marketplace.

However, Marx states that this competitive marketplace creates an environment where the end-goal is to increase share of the market, while maximizing revenue or surplus-value. This would require that commodities be distributed at a high price and produced at the lowest possible price. Marx states that this results in exploitation of both the consumers, as well as workers in the production process. This causes me to think whether competition and cooperation really do coexist, even within such capitalist societies. Back to build on Sophia’s idea, I also believe that there must be a balance between competition and cooperation for the best results in terms of social progress. However, it is worth re-examining whether the modern capitalist system fosters an environment for mutual cooperation and competition or create an endlessly competitive society of exploitation.


  1. I agreed that Molina et al focused on the co-existence of cooperation and competition with a particular emphasis on cooperation. The article covers individual competition/cooperation, group competition/cooperation, and moral ethics. I think the authors were trying to structure the article with above three levels. They were mainly promoting an idea that the ultimate goal of both cooperation and competition are to increase the chances of survivals. This article was emphasized on cooperation part and how cooperation can help increase the chance of survival. In the ending paragraph, the article made it clear of the essay focus but expressed their willingness to dig into competition more in their next article. The integration relationship between competition and cooperation is their main discovery. By the way, the sociological perspective is very interesting.


  2. You present the information in a very articulate and clear manner, and comparing Molina et al. to Marxism is very interesting and relevant to the subject matter. I believe that one of the most interesting parts of this paper is the fact that Molina et al. specifies the mutual relationship of cooperation and competition, stating that their coexistence is undeniable. However, Molina et al focused more on the benefits of cooperation in regards to evolution (specifying kin selection, for one) more so than the negatives of extreme independence. They discussed the topic in a broad scope with evolutionary respect to all peoples rather than specifying a specific group of people – for example, Bateson put emphasis on the negative consequences of competition in regards to North American ideas of individualism. Molina et al. presents their information in a way that is meaningful to everyone regardless of background.


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