W3 Reading response: Competition and Cooperation

J. L. Molina et al, an anthropology research group, review social anthropological literature regarding the evolution of cooperation and its coexistence with competition in their article, “Cooperation and competition in social anthropology”. Published in Anthropology Today (a bimonthly peer-reviewed economic journal), the article begins with reminders to be sensitive of the discourse community and credits the research by other disciplines. As mentioned by Jaren (https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/151434665/posts/1326), the discourse community is subject to change along with the rhetoric of each discipline. By acknowledging that each discipline can only provide limited research, the authors subtly hint towards cooperation.

Unlike Bateson, Molina et al. are more objective with their presentation of existing theories due to the form of presentation. Because Bateson is addressing an audience in real time, her use of facts and evidence are framed in a way to convince and persuade the crowd. She purposefully leaves out certain analyses. For example, the fact that the cells were cooperating to become better at competing. Consequently, in class when we spent time analyzing her arguments, several people took notice of the absence of such analysis and found fault with her argument. But as mentioned above, the form of her argument was a speech, not a lengthy article. If she had given us facts (presented in a speech), we would have lost interest quickly. For these same reasons, we find greater development of thought in “Cooperation and competition in social anthropology.”

The difference in development is evident in the way the authors analyze the existing literature, which labels kin selection, reciprocity and group selection as key factors in the evolution of cooperation.  The latter two of these factors were developed in greater depth than kin selection because of the great criticism kin selection faced in the anthropological community.

Instead of isolating competition and cooperation like Bateson did in her speech, the authors argue for a focus on cooperation as a tool for competition. On the other hand, Hutcheon calls for academics to use their conflict as a means of cooperation.

It is important to note that the end goal of Molina et al. and Hutcheon are different. Molina et al, at this point in their article, attempt to find the origins of cooperation and its evolution, whereas Hutcheon is addressing the destructive nature of competition in academia. As montylussow (https://mschandorf.ca/2019/01/21/competition-as-cooperation/) mentioned, the terms used by different authors can have completely different meanings and objectives.

Molina et al again reflect the necessity to contribute for research to become multi-faceted as they present vastly different societies in which competition and cooperation are played out. In foraging societies, competition is avoided through the principle of sharing resources; however, the elimination of competition is not promised. The emphasis on cooperation in this society as a means of survival can be likened to how Bateson claimed that our existence is dependent on cooperation and how Hutcheon wants her audience to cooperate and reform the agonistic and violent field of academia. In the subsequent section, the authors explore the manifestation of cooperation and competition in tribal settings. Here, competitive structures of a hierarchy are used to ensure future cooperation. The concept of the “invisible hand” of the free market, mentioned by Werron, is alluded to through the idea of “Moral economy’ found in peasant societies.

Ultimately, when reading these articles, we cannot categorize them as individual approaches that have little relation to each other. To add to that, we need to understand that the relationship between these articles are not binary where one article argues one point of view and another argues the opposite, rather they fall under a multitude of angles which try to understand the competition and cooperation and their variety of consequences.

Image credit: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/tbs-sct/images/regulatory-cooperation/20180201.jpg


  1. Hi Andrea!

    I agree entirely with your remarks on structure in comparing Bateson and Molina’s articles. Molina et al go more in depth because they can. The audience and format of Bateson’s once speech turned article, affects not only her presented arguments, but the ensuing “development of thoughts” as you mentioned above, upon breaking down her points. As Bateson’s paper was catered and written specifically for those of Systems Research and Behavioural Science backgrounds, their thoughts surrounding many of Bateson’s points have already been developed – they are experts on these points! Bateson doesn’t expand on many of her biology specified examples, or religious points because she simply doesn’t need to. Her audience is very much so aware of all background knowledge surrounding these examples. Therefore I completely agree with you regarding the greater chance one has at truly developing their thought processes and understanding while reading Molina’s article.

    Really interesting to see how a slight difference in audience can create a multitude of variances in writing styles, information presented and afterthought. Great analysis!

    – Mila


  2. Hi Mila!

    Thanks for taking the time to respond! It is a bit difficult to reply since we both agree on that point, therefore, I would like to challenge you to think about how we bring our biases and our own underlying assumptions into the analysis of the articles we read. Have you also began to notice this phenomenon in your everyday life? For myself, it was quite interesting to see that despite the recognition of such biases, the way I presented my thoughts were still heavily influenced by these underlying assumptions, which just goes to show how deeply they affect our beliefs.



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