No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)


Simmel, G. (1908), Konkurrenz, in: Soziologie - Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.

Below, you can firstly read my application of Simmel's paper to safety management. Secondly, you can read my summary of Simmel's paper.

Competition abounds in safety management

Companies compete. When faced with declining productivity growth and margins, they strive to reduce costs and increase efficiency, often at the expense of employee well-being. The market-oriented approach and the pressure to reorganize can result in a lack of employee participation in decision-making and conflicts between management and employees.

In the field of safety consulting, competition among firms can be intense as they strive to differentiate themselves in the market through their services and expertise. We have witnessed an explosion of safety concepts and products, with methods, practices, and models being developed and promoted by both academics and consultants, through books, articles, conference presentations and online videos or training programs (a.k.a. "the safety market; Le Coze, 2019). 

Furthermore, we witness an almost religious competition between the old and the new view of safety. While the "old view" (of course not under that name) tends to focus on the role of individuals or teams as the primary cause of adverse events, the "new view" looks at human error as a consequence of underlying systemic issues.

Competition is not all negative: The competition among companies can lead to the development of new and innovative safety concepts, as well as the advancement of safety knowledge and understanding. The competition among safety consulting firms can also drive them to differentiate themselves in the market through their services and expertise, leading to a better and more diverse offering for consumers. Adding to this, the competition between the old and new view of safety can also be seen as a positive force, as both views can be taken into consideration and integrated into a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of safety.

In the end, it is up to all people involved to balance the positive and negative consequences of competition and to ensure that it's serving the best interest of society and the individuals within it.

The Role of Competition in Society: A Sociological Perspective

Competition and conflict are not inherently negative, but rather are necessary for a society to function and develop. So, competition should not be viewed solely as a negative force, as it can also lead to positive outcomes within the context of society as a whole. The ideal of peace and harmony is not achievable in reality, as there will always be differences and conflicts within a society. The balance of harmony and disharmony, association and competition, and favor and disfavor is necessary for a society to reach a certain level of organization and structure. Competition can serve as a means to achieve both individual and collective goals. It can be seen as a way for individuals to achieve personal satisfaction and for society to achieve objective social values. This relationship of means and ends is not unique to competition, but can be observed in other areas such as the relationship between individuals and their species, or between individuals and their beliefs in a higher power, e.g. individuals often use a higher power as a means to achieve their own personal goals, such as achieving eternal happiness. So, through competition, individuals achieve their own personal goals, but also the continuation and development of society as a whole is served.

Competition can be found in many different areas of society, not just in large or obvious cases, but also:

  • in everyday interactions
  • in debates and discussions
  • in the pursuit of vanity and personal satisfaction.

Competition plays a role in the formation of relationships and can have a positive impact on the parties involved. As society becomes more liberal and less regulated by traditional norms, competition will play an increasingly important role in shaping society. Competition is driven by the interest and desire of individuals to gain the favor of others and to achieve personal goals. The most valuable objects for humans are other humans, as they are the source of energy, knowledge and power. The competition for the favor of others is a natural desire for humans.

Different types of competition affect individuals and groups. This is not always the simple subtraction of weaker forces from stronger ones, as competition can also be beneficial and increase value. Competition is present in various aspects of life, including economic, political, social, and religious contexts. Competition is different from rivalry: while competition is based on the relative performance of individuals or groups, rivalry is based on their absolute performance. The presence of a common goal or chance can affect the feelings of competitors towards each other, with feelings ranging from envy to apathetic. Competition can manifest in various forms, from economic and sports competitions to more subtle forms in personal relationships and social interactions. It often involves a mix of feelings such as indifference, envy, and admiration. The specific dynamics of competition can vary depending on the context and the type of competition. Its ultimate goal, whether it is economic or artistic, is to improve and perfect one's abilities and skills. Simmel understood socialism as a kind of life technique that aims to create a more efficient and effective society, but noted that ultimately the success of such a system depends on the subjective impulses and instincts of individuals.

Competition can be limited by various factors, e.g.

  • the costs of competition are borne by a third party, such as the consumer, which can lead to the formation of cartels among businesses;
  • competition is limited by laws and moral principles.

When competition is restricted through the use of legal restrictions, such as prohibitions on fraud, or through the formation of cartels, these restrictions are not necessarily a restriction on competition itself, but rather the elimination of non-competitive behavior, such as deceitful advertising or other tactics that do not rely on objective performance. These legal restrictions on competition do not necessarily protect competitors from one another, but rather eliminate behavior that is detrimental to society as a whole.

Competition in modern times is a form of battle that is perfectly suited for the modern individual, as it allows for objective results based on individual performance while also allowing for personal responsibility and self-determination. The competition in modern times brings together the two fundamental tendencies of modern life, the objective and the personal, and they complement each other in a way that forms a "historical unity".

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