Professor Johnathan Hearn came to speak, at the University of Warwick, about power and the role of competition in society.

‘Competition is part of the deep structure of how society is organised,’ he said. ‘I am not a supporter of competition. I used to be a musician and thought I would escape the constant competition over gigs by working in the ivory tower of academia. Of course competition kept chasing after me!’

Hearn discussed competition as rituals that may or may not succeed. Competition between belief-making institutions may be responsible, in part, for the dissemination of certain ideologies in society. Of course because my research interest is stories I probably ignored his real message and began to make connects of stories-competition.


isn’t a new concept. It is an historical point of view, as Winston Churchill said ‘History is written by the victors.’ Whether through news stories, education, or reality TV like I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here! These forms of story as society’s narratives may be feeding back to anyone watching or listening that competition is a “natural” part of society.

Hearn points out, the word competitive relating to the characteristic of a person didn’t exist until the mid-18th century (I hope I remembered accurately). Is it then a socially influenced phenomenon?

Say narratives are competing all the time… in this way they might contribute to social stability or social change. Certain ideologies would be reinforced as “the norm” and others frowned upon, in different ways in different societies. I doubt that society is structured around competition on its own, and this isn’t what Hearn was trying to say. He acknowledged the difficulties of separating competition from other factors that contribute to the complexity of our social world. And anti-competitive individuals also have to be considered, although as beings there is an element of competing for resources that we cannot escape. Especially in the academic world when it comes to funding. Should we be funding the best competitors who may hold very conventional and therefore definable ideas, or should we fund the ideas. Now there’s a thought.

Emma Parfitt

Proofreader for business and academic documents, translations, and English writing.

1 Comment

Emma Parfitt (author) · 26 February 2015 at 11 h 31 min

Comment here! What do you think about the role of competition in society. Are you competitive?

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