A Sociology of Competition. Special Issue of Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory. Edited by Eva Hartmann and Poul F. Kjaer
Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, Vol 16, issue 2, 2015, pp. 141 - 262
Posted: 17 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 16, 2015
Competition has become a catchword which divides the world. Some present it as panacea that will solve the current economic crisis. Much in line with Adam Smith, competition is seen as the most effective means to prevent producers from overpricing their products and from delivering poor quality. This take on competition differs diametrically from the view that strong competition will trigger a destructive race to the bottom, to the detriment of the whole society. Despite these fundamental differences, what both positions have in common is the assumption that competition has a major impact on society. In their seminal book on EU competition law, Michelle Cini and Lee McGowan identify competition policy as ‘the most important organizing principle in the capitalist world’.
In the light of the importance assigned to competition, it comes as something of a surprise that competition is not a major topic within sociology. This special issue intends to contribute to overcoming this lacuna by outlining key dimensions of a sociology of competition. Such an account of competition is much more than just a sub-category of economic sociology; it rather explores all the different forms of competition in the sphere of economics, politics, sport, knowledge, beauty, fashion, art, and love, to name but a few areas where competition has gained momentum.
Fortunately, this intellectual endeavour does not have to start from scratch but can benefit from the reasoning on competition which was prevalent in the sociology of the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Accordingly, the contributions to this special issue draw on scholars such as Georg Simmel, Emile Durkheim, and Karl Marx, as well as Talcott Parsons, Franz Neumann, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Polanyi, and more recent sociological accounts of competition developed by Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, and Niklas Luhmann. The overall idea is to cover a broad range of different sociological accounts of competition with a view to providing a better understanding of how competition structures society.
The contributions also aim to cover a broad range in methodological terms. Some analyses in this issue examine changes in the scholarly discussion on competition over the last two centuries. Other studies take the dissemination of these arguments into account by analysing changes in the dictionaries’ definition of competition. Another contribution examines the World Bank's training manuals, which are used in capacity-building workshops. Last but not least, the concept of competition and its modification is studied through the lens of European case law.
Keywords: competition, state theory, neo-liberalism, social theory, political economy, Bourdieu, Luhmann, Simmel, Weber, competition policy, sociology
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