Research project

The Competition and Competitiveness Project

Principal Investigator
Professor Timo Jütten

Reshaping the political philosophy landscape 

The Competition and Competitiveness Project is a research project in the School of Philosophy & Art History funded by a Research Leadership Award from the Leverhulme Trust. It started in October 2020 and will run for four years.

The aim of the project is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the different forms of competition and competitiveness and the role they play in a wide range of social practices and institutions, for example, markets, the arts, sciences, and sports.

The project takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on historical sources, social scientific insights and philosophical analysis. The Principal Investigator, Professor Timo Jütten, leads a research team, consisting of three Senior Research Officers, a PhD student (from October 2021), and a project administrator.

Competition and competitiveness are poorly understood but rarely submitted to detailed analysis. This research will reshape the disciplinary landscape of (political) philosophy, making a more realistic conception of human nature and social processes the basis of its normative arguments and offering a nuanced view of when competition is appropriate.



Current Research

Conceptual Questions

One stream of our research considers conceptual questions about competition and competitiveness. Research questions include:

  • how should competition be defined?
  • are there important differences between forms of competition?
  • what are the purposes of competition?
  • how can we measure competitiveness?

Meritocratic Competition

A society is meritocraticto the extent that access to important goods is allocated according to merit. Meritocracy is competitive, because the goods that it allocates are scarceand, often, positional. For example, in a meritocratic society, individuals compete for access to and success in selective education and desirable and well-paid jobs, and the honours and material rewards that come with that success.

A number of recent studies have pointed to problems of meritocratic societies (e.g., Robert H. Frank’s Success and Luck[2016], Jo Littler’s Against Meritocracy[2017], Daniel Markovits’ The Meritocracy Trap[2017], and Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit[2020]).

One stream of our current research looks specifically at thecompetitivecharacter of meritocracyand a number of related concepts, such as equality of opportunity, fairness and luck. Research questions include:

  • how has the British Left conceptualised equality of opportunity?
  • what is the role of luck in meritocratic competition?
  • should meritocratic competition be governed by an ethics of competition?
Action shot of cyclist in race
Is competition always a good thing?

Competition is central to modern life and individual competitiveness can be a useful motivation. But do we really understand it and how can we maximise the benefits?

Read the article
Get in touch
Get in touch
Amelia Horgan Project Officer