Mutualistic vs. zero‐sum modes of competition – a comparative study of children's competitive motivations and behaviours in China

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Anni Kajanus University of Helsinki

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This article investigates the development of competitive motivation in children in the context of the extreme emphasis on competition in post‐reform Chinese society. Drawing from ethnographic and experimental approaches, it compares the competitive modes of children in an urban middle‐class school and a semi‐rural working‐class school. A conceptual model is developed that distinguishes between zero‐sum and mutualistic modes of competition, and the individual orientation and group orientation. The zero‐sum mode emphasises the benefits and losses derived from winning and losing, while the mutualistic mode emphasises the elements of competition that are beneficial to all participants regardless of the outcome. Through these distinctions the article contests the common association of competitiveness with individualism and the opposition between competition and cooperation, and proposes a working model for a comparative study of competitiveness.

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