Stefan Arora-Jonsson, Professor at the Department of Business Studies, Uppsala universitet
Competition is a ubiquitous feature of modern society, perhaps more so now than ever before. While competition has been considered a natural part of market economies since the early 1700’s (McNulty, 1967), it has of late gained popularity across most societies. TV shows have ordinary people competing in cookery, to survive on an island or to find a spouse to marry, and the activities of a nation grind to a halt during the soccer world championship.
With the rise of new public management, competition has been invoked to govern publically provided services – from pre-schools and geriatric care (Christensen & Lægreid, 2011) to the military (Singer, 2003). In the public debate competition is said to lead to efficiency, variation or innovation, as well as to exploitation, waste and inequality.
In contrast to the widespread use of competition across society stands a limited understanding of competition. The limitation does not consist of too few, but rather too many, understandings of what competition is, how it works and thereby what its effects may be. Competition is used to justify resource distribution decisions and to explain unjust outcomes. It is used in a retrospective sense, and in a forward looking way to justify actions. This ambiguity in how competition is understood renders discussions intractable and frustrates even the simplest of questions.
If you want to read the first chapter of a book Stefan is writing on this subject, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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