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Over the past few decades many people have argued for various benefits of competition and, have promoted the introduction of competition in new areas, such as higher education, schooling, health care, correctional treatment, or employment services. It is sometimes clear that competition is desired but less clear what good should be the target of the competition, what people or organizations in these areas should be competing for. Competition can concern almost any type of good: Money, attention, status, and affection constitute some examples. In order to act as a competitor, it is crucial to know what good one is competing for. The same is true for observers trying to understand competition and its behavioural consequences. In the literature on competition, it is often stated that competition is for “resources”. But such a general term hides large variation, and we believe that greater precision is necessary. Different goods vary in how often, when, and how they are scarce and desired, and in who can acquire them. All these factors are in turn dependent on the way goods are allocated among people in society. Money in a market context, for instance, is allocated differently than are prizes for excellent achievements, creating different conditions for constructing competition in these areas. Furthermore, if we take the concept of resource seriously, we can define it as a good that is desired, because it is a means for acquiring another desirable good. Arguably, money is almost always seen as a resource (at least normatively), whereas attention or love from others may sometimes be perceived as desirable in itself and not merely a resource for acquiring something else. The extent to which a good is seen as a resource influences the level of competition for it. On the one hand, desire for a good is likely to be more intense if it not only has a value in itself, but is also seen as resource for acquiring another desirable good. On the other hand, desire for a resource that has no value in itself can easily evaporate if it can be replaced by another resource that more effectively leads to the attainment of the valuable good. When goods are perceived as resources, they easily connect to other goods, and competition for one good may become intertwined with competition for another. The intertwining of competitions for two different goods should not lead us to confuse the competitions with each other, however; rather it makes it essential to distinguish between them analytically.
In this chapter, we are interested in competition for status and how that type of competition can be constructed. We investigate the case of an organized allocation of status in the form of prizes, ratings, rankings, and the like, and we analyse the effects of that allocation on competition among organizations. We argue that there is no automatic link between organized status allocation and competition. Rather it is useful to think of organized status allocation as providing more or less convincing arguments in a discussion among proponents and sceptics of the idea that an organization is or should be involved in status competition. We illustrate our arguments with examples from sports and higher education.
Linda Wedlin is Professor of Business Studies, Organization theory at Uppsala University. She is interested in institutional change and development and the changing governance of the public sector, most notably in the field of higher education and research.