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Just as cooperation exists as a universal form of social interaction, so is competition found in all societies. Competition grows out of the fact that human needs and desires appears to be insatiable and the goods, prestige, and perquisites that are the rewards for successful competition always are in short supply. People everywhere compete for dwelling space, for mates, for elaborate clothing and other bodily ornaments, and for wealth whether defined in terms of land, animals, money or even cockle shells.

Although all societies acknowledge and support the value of competition in some areas of life, they differ in the relative emphasis that they place on competition and cooperation, cooperation and competition always exist as reciprocal aspects of the same general experience. European capitalist society, generally, has accepted the view that the collective interest further by individual and group competition spurs people on to accomplish more than can be managed under other circumstances. This stands in marked contrast to the beliefs of some other societies; to that of the Zuni Indians of the American South west. The Zunis discouraged the accumulation of wealth and they minimize status differences among themselves.

They also regard overt competitiveness as a matter of taste in their children. There is some justification for this reaction to competition. Competition, however, is an ideal type. An ideal type is a form of concept that is constructed by taking one or more characteristics of a phenomenon and accentuating those characteristics to their logical maximum or reducing them to their logical minimum. The type thus constructed does not represent reality because the very process of its construction involves exaggeration. Ideal types, nevertheless, are very useful as logical standards by which reality can be measured. This often is done by making a pair of ideal types and letting them represent the ends of a continuum or scale. Because the ends of the scale are defined in terms of logical extremes, no existing case falls at either end of the continuum, but all cases may be ranged somewhere along the continuum between the two end points.