Competition is a current catchword in discussions on the organization of society. Over the last century much effort has been exerted to introduce and organize competition in new areas of social life. While competition also has since long been a fundamental concept across the social sciences, we know surprisingly little about the larger and more important questions of competition in society. The reasons for this are many, but one of the main hindrances for a useful social science dialogue on competition is that competition is often imprecisely defined, and in different ways across fields of research.
This renders difficult any cross-field understanding about competition and hampers the chances of social science constructively to contribute to the public debate. We think that it is time to clarify and elaborate on the concept of competition, and a first important step is the workshop in Stockholm.
To help the process along, we suggest a definition that we think is useful for further empirical work broadly within social sciences. We understand competition as a relationship among social actors who desire something scarce that none of them already has, but which either – but not all – could get.
While drawing on earlier definitions, our understanding enables the investigation of competition inside as well as outside economic markets. At its core, we propose to understand competition as a social construction. Competition can thus be studied in a wide array of social situations - from competition among political parties or among sellers or buyers in markets, to competition in sports or in love affairs. Actors can compete for various ”somethings”, such as political or organizational positions, for money, for status, for attention or for a life partner. By defining competition as a relationship and not as a kind of behaviour we can observe and try to explain the various behavioural effects that competition may have in different situations. By defining competition as constructed by the (possibly) competing actors themselves, we can interrogate the institutional and organizational conditions that make competition likely. We can study how people try to organize for competition to arise and with what
results. Furthermore, by understanding the organizational and institutional foundations of competition, we can also begin to address the question of how competition could be scaled back, or removed.
Upon request we can send a paper, currently under review, that provides a more detailed description of and arguments for our understanding of competition. If interested, please, just email one of the organizers and we will send this paper to you.
For the workshop, we invite papers that use this kind of definition to understand the causes, effects and processes of competition in various areas of social life. Empirical studies or illustrations are encouraged. What makes people believe that they are engaged in competition and how do they define the competitors and what they compete for? What strengthens or weakens those features that constitute competition: the emergence of ”actorhood”, the institutionalization of desire, and the experience of scarcity? Last but not least, how do people and organizations organize for competition to arise and take a preferred form? In addition to economic and political competition, we are interested in competition effects of prizes and contests, from the striving for attention, and from the activities of a broad range of people and organizations, including experts, media, regulators and further audiences.
We invite papers at different stages from those presenting promising ideas to those presenting empirical or theoretical results. If you are interested in attending the workshop please send us, within two weeks of receiving this invitation, an e-mail where you explain what is the topic of your paper including a few words about how you think it fits into the theme of the workshop. The next step is then an extended abstract of approximately 2 000 words by 13/1, 2019. As the number of participants is limited to about 25, there may be a selection of manuscripts at this stage.
Full papers are due April 29, 2019.
Looking forward to hearing from you
Nils Brunsson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Raimund Hasse (email@example.com)
Stefan Arora-Jonsson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Katarina Lagerström (email@example.com)