© 2019

What Happens to People in a Competitive Society

An Anthropological Investigation of Competition


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xi
  2. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
    Pages 1-31
  3. The Phenomenon of Competition

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 33-33
  4. Competition and the Economy

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 113-113
    2. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
      Pages 115-152
    3. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
      Pages 153-215
    4. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
      Pages 217-290
    5. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
      Pages 291-326
  5. Competition and Anthropology

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 327-327
    2. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
      Pages 329-389
    3. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen
      Pages 391-411
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 413-423

About this book


In this book, author Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen probes the question: What is at stake for human beings in a society dominated by competition, particularly economic competition? Is competition endemic to human nature? Does it preserve the dignity and intrinsic value of the human being? Does it secure better living conditions? In a way, the answer to these queries is a simple “yes.”  It can allow for superior satisfaction of fundamental needs; legitimate self-love and self-realization; and encourage positive feelings upon mastering a skill. At the same time, however, competition can also contribute to a strong materialistic self-interest and support classicism, social ranking, and elitism: other human beings become only means to a personal success, thus jeopardizing fellowship and collaboration. In a hyper-competitive environment, some of the same positive human values mentioned above—self-love, self-realisation, individuality, and freedom—can be viewed to pose a threat to the realisation of one’s potential. These competing, contradictory aspects of competition are presented and discussed from perspectives across varying disciplines, from social anthropology and economics to history, ethics, philosophy and theology.


philosophic anthropology ethics morality competition economics neoclassical market economy ethical economics ethics of sport ethics of pedagogics equality social organization business ethics moral philosophy

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and SocietyOsloNorway

About the authors

Dr. Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen is Professor at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, Oslo, Norway.

Bibliographic information

Industry Sectors
Finance, Business & Banking


“In this impressive study on competition and true humanity Svein Olaf Thorbjørnsen gives an original perspective on the relationship between ethics and economics. By providing a careful and critical analysis of the phenomenon of competition, he gives an important contribution to the critique of the image of human behavior within economic theory.”

—Carl-Henric Grenholm, Professor of Ethics, Uppsala University, Sweden