Competition: Characteristics, Value and Function!
Competition is the most fundamental form of social struggle. According to Sutherland, Woodward and Maxwell “Competition is an impersonal, unconscious, continuous struggle between individuals or groups for satisfaction which, because of their limited supply, all may not have.” In the words of Biesanz “competition is the striving of two or more persons for the same goal which is limited so that all cannot share it.”
According to Bogardus, “Competition is a contest to obtain something which does not exist in a quantity sufficient to meet the demand.” Majumdar defines competition as the “impersonalized struggle among resembling creatures for goods and service which are scare or limited in quantity.”
According to Anderson and Parker, “Competition is that form of social action in which we strive against each other for the possession of or use of so limited material or non-material good.” It is one aspect of struggle which is universal not only in human society but also in the plant and animal worlds.
It is a force which compels people to act against one another. It is a natural result of the universal struggle for existence. It occurs whenever there is an insufficient supply of anything that human beings desire—insufficient in the sense that all cannot have as much of it as they wish. In any society, for example, there are normally more people who want jobs than there are jobs available: hence there is competition for available places.
Among those who are already employed, there is likewise competition for better jobs. Since scarcity is in a sense an inevitable condition of social life, consequently, competition of some sort or the other is found in all the societies. There is no competition for sunshine and air which are unlimited.
There is thus competition not only for bread but for luxuries, power, social position, mates, fame and all other things not available for one’s asking. It is an effort to outdo the competitor in achieving some mutually desired goal.
Its aim is not to banish or destroy the opponent. It is not coercion. The competitors observe rules of competition which eliminate force and fraud. When these rules are broken, it becomes conflict. Competition is never entirely unrestricted.
Characteristics of Competition:
The following characteristics determine the nature of competition:
(i) Competition is impersonal struggle:
Park and Burgess have defined competition as “interaction without social contact.” It is, in other words, an inter-individual struggle that is impersonal. It is usually not directed against any individual or group in particular; the competitors are not in contact and do not know one another.
Competition is for the most part not personalised. When the individuals compete with each other, not on personal level but as members of groups, such as business, social or cultural organisations, tribes, nations, political parties etc. the competition is called impersonal.
(ii) Competition is an unconscious activity:
Competition takes place on the unconscious level. Students, for example, do not conceive of their classmates as competitors even though it is true that there are only a certain number of honours available and if certain members of the class get them, the honours are automatically denied to others.
Students may, no doubt, be conscious of the competition and much concerned about marks. It remains competition just so long as their attention is focussed on the reward or goals for which they are striving than on the competitor. When there is a shift in interest from the objects of competition to the competitors themselves, it is called rivalry or personal competition.
(iii) Competition is universal:
Competition is found in every society and in every age. It is found in every group. As the things people wish to secure are limited in supply, there is competition all-round to secure them.
To quote from the monograph prepared by May and Doob “On a social level, individuals compete with one another when: (i) they are striving to achieve the same goal that is scarce; (ii) they are prevented by the roles of the situation from achieving this goal in equal amounts; (iii) they perform better when the goal can be achieved in unequal terms; and (iv) they have relatively few psychologically affiliative contacts with one another.
Some thinkers are of the opinion that competition is an innate tendency. According to them, it is found among all the species. But as a matter of fact, competition is not an inborn tendency rather it is a social phenomenon.
It takes place only when the desired thing is in short supply. It differs in degree from society to society. Its degree is determined by social values and social structure. It is a culturally patterned process. No society allows it to operate in an unrestricted manner.
Competition can be seen at five levels: economic, cultural, social, political and racial.
Value of Competition:
Competition, like co-operation, is indispensable in social life. It arises from the fact that individuals are capable of independent locomotion and have the capacity for gaining an individual experience as a result of independent action. Some sociologists are of the view that it is even more basic process than co-operation.
Hobbes had remarked that the struggle is the basic law of life and that earliest man lived in a continual state of warfare. Hume, Hegel, Rousseau and Bagehot also corroborated the views of Hobbes. Later on, the theory of the “survival of the fittest” which developed as a result of Darwin’s theory of evolution also stressed the importance of competition in society.
It was consequently asserted that if nature is dominated by conflict this must also be true of human nature and human society. But as Kropotkin has pointed out, it is not the competition alone but co-operation also which plays a major role in survival.
Competition performs many useful functions in society. It is extremely dynamic. According to H. T. Mazumdar, it performs five positive functions. First, it helps determine the status and location of individual members in a system of hierarchy, Second, it tends to stimulate economy, efficiency and invectiveness, third, it tends to enhance one’s ego- fourth, it prevents undue concentration of power in an individual or group of individuals, and fifth, it creates respect for the rules of the game.
To briefly summarise its functions:
(i) Assignment of individuals to proper places Firstly:
it assigns individuals to a place in the social system. Human community is fundamentally an arrangement under which individuals must perform functions which, while enabling them to exist, also make it possible for the community as a whole to conduct its affairs. Competition determines who is to perform what function.
The division of labour and the entire complex economic organisation in modern life are thus the products of competition. In the words of E. A. Ross, “competition performs the broad function of assigning to each individual his place in his social world”. Competition is a progressive force which fulfills and does not necessarily destroy. The stimulus of competition has played a considerable role in the technological and organisational innovation.
(ii) Source of motivation Secondly:
Competition furnishes motivation in the desire to excel or to obtain recognition or to win an award. It stimulates achievement by lifting the levels of aspiration, the individuals work harder if competing than if working on their own with no thought of rivalry.
In the words of Eldredge, “Competition between individuals and groups is largely towards the objective of preserving or improving their respective statuses rather than survival.” Researchers have shown that wherever competition is culturally encouraged, it usually increases productivity.
(iii) Conducive to progress:
Thirdly, fair competition is conducive to economic as well as social progress and even to general welfare because it spurs individuals and groups to exert their best efforts. Its obvious connection with what is called progress has led some thinkers to regard it as the essential feature of modem Civilization.
Ogburn and Nimkoff observe that competition provides the individuals better opportunities to satisfy their desires for new experiences and recognition. It is the opposite of ascribed status. It believes in achieved status. Those who denounce it ask for fixity of status and thus pull back the forces of progress.
It may not, however, be presumed that competition is a pre-requisite to social progress. Mazumdar has mentioned its three negative functions. First, it may lead to neurosis through frustration; second, it may lead to monopoly, and third it may lead to conflicts. Competition can be vicious both for individuals and groups.
It may create emotional disturbances. It may develop unfriendly and unfavourable attitudes among the persons or groups towards one another. Unfair competition has the most disintegrating effects. If uncontrolled it becomes a conflict involving unethical and sometimes violent practices. In economic sphere competition results in waste and lack of consideration for the real needs of the people.
It can lead to starvation in the midst of plenty, to fear and insecurity; to instability and panic. It treats others purely as means and in itself is devoid of sentiment. Unlimited competition leads to monopoly. In the economic field, businessmen seek to protect themselves against competition e.g., by erecting tariff barriers against foreign competition, by agreeing upon prices.
Labour unites for protecting their wages and excluding foreign labour and for a number of other purposes. Bureaucrats protect themselves through their association. Races protect their interests by excluding others from entering within their fold. Competition and co-operation differ sharply in social attitudes they foster in the individual.
However, no society is exclusively competitive or exclusively co-operative.
The social system is a balance between competitive and cooperative forces. But competition should always be healthy and fair. Only then can it be advantageous both for the individual progress and welfare of the group. It may also be noted that the organizational trend today is towards forms of control and organization that reduce rather than encourage intergroup competition.