Kritik Concept 2- We don’t need uniqueness

Inevitably each summer when students are asked what makes a k different from a da one of the answers given is that a k doesn’t require uniqueness. This view is reflected in many debates I see where a team reading a k will respond to arguments about uniqueness by saying “duh, we are a k” and act as if that fixes everything.

The idea that k’s don’t “need” uniqueness relies on a basic misunderstanding of a few concepts I will now attempt to elaborate.

Let’s start with the distinction between problem solving theory and critical theory since as a concept it is like Zizek in 2002- so hot right now. Generally the way this distinction is used in debates is as a quick framework card and that’s the end of it. The idea that debate should be about critical theory and not problem solving theory, however, has some pretty substantial effects on the way judges should consider the debate. To use a small example, many teams reading the security K read evidence from the Copenhagen school or Critical Security Studies (CSS) authors. These two schools of thought interpret what it means to be critical security theory a little differently, but both make some similar criticisms of the traditional hegemony good aff/form of evaluation employed by judges in policy debate.

Assume a debate has evolved in the following way

1AC: Withdrawal from Iraq solves overstretch which is key to Kagan

1NC: Security K, nebulous genocide style impact

2AC: Nuke war o/w genocide- Bostrom

2NC: ???

Here the negative has the opportunity to combine their promotion of critical theory with their arguments about uniqueness. Instead of saying “we don’t need uniqueness, there is no status quo” which is about as far as most teams get, they could make a string of arguments like the following:

1. Critical theory requires us to question current dominant structures, that doesn’t just mean the state. Traditional debate impact calculus that measures up the body count on each side is itself a hegemonic structure- it is not the only or inevitable way to resolve debates. Measuring hypothetical future wars is not a value neutral instrument- it is a specific way of making decisions that has been crafted to reify existing security structures. Preoccupation with hypothetical military conflicts sustains the military industrial complex by creating an underlying reservoir of fear that can be tapped into at any point to justify aggressive foreign policy decisions .

2. The 1AC depiction of the world is not an objective “status quo” that we have to defend- its a political construct. They took the best quotes they could find to construct a worst case scenario for strategic purposes- our critique pulls back the curtain on their project of producing reality. The 1AC advantage doesn’t exist as something that can be evaluated outside of the project of security- to say impending conflict necessitates action is to allow tunnel vision to defend itself. Even if they are right urgency does not require replacing methods that work with those that don’t.

3. The alternative is a different way of making decisions that resists dominant security narratives. Instead of focusing on security as the well being of the nation state, security should be conceptualized as individual emancipation. Instead of voting for the team that hypothetical prevents the biggest atrocity, you should adopt the epistemology of the team that best resists oppressive security structures. In this kind of calculus we don’t have to win we “outweigh” the affirmative advantages because they aren’t a relevant concern- your ballot should address a prior question.

These 3 arguments combine to paint a picture that demonstrates why the negative should not have to “defend” the status quo as described by the affirmative, but it does so through argument not theoretical sleight of hand.

Argument 1 is basically the warrant made in most k of nuke war impact cards (like most structural violence impact claims for example). The idea here is that the language of war and conflict, and the way it has become normalized, makes it easier for certain groups to successfully advance their agenda. The classic example of this is probably education vs military spending. During the cold war fixation on potential nuclear war with the Ruskies funneled tons o’ money into the military/nuclear weapons complex while spending on education dwindled. This didn’t happen the way it would happen in a debate- where one side got up and read an education 1AC and the other side read a DOD tradeoff da and shell 82, but that’s not as far off the mark as you might think. In reality policy makers were forced to make choices about how to allocate finite resources, and while there were certainly many factors in play, the idea that military confrontation posed a more immediate existential risk was certainly one factor that boosted military budgets. The rhetoric of catastrophe being viewed as the most important more easily lends itself to use by certain interests, and those interests in turn have a stake in making sure that rhetoric continues to be the most feared/respected.

Argument 2- one of the things that always makes me shake my head about people who think representations critiques are illegitimate is that, fundamentally, if the aff can defend that their advantage claims are true they should crush these critiques each and every time. And if that is the standard- that shouldn’t be that hard. You get infinite prep to pick the advantages you read/defend so you should be able to pick a good one and be ready to defend it. In reality advantages are chosen for a variety of reasons, a major one being strategic utility, and this strategic imperative is what makes the reps k so effective. It drives the affirmative into more and more radical impacts less based on social science data or empirical research and more based on ideology and inflammatory rhetoric. Some of the classic impact cards for common affirmative advantages come from authors who over the last 20 years have made hundreds of failed predictions about how international affairs would work, and against these kinds of evidence the security k actually makes a good bit of sense/is easy to explain. If the affirmative chooses to read an advantage constructed from sources like that, the argument that you don’t have to “defend the status quo” is really an argument about how to assess probability. Since “these people are crazy, ignore them” doesn’t sound as good, you can use the language of critical theory to explain it in a more tactful way.

Argument 3- this has become a big pet peeve of mine, but when your k isn’t about the plan it doesn’t make sense to explain your alternative as a counterplan. Think of this conversation

Roy: lets go eat at X

me: i’m not hungry

roy: what is your alternative

me: lets go to fogo

This exchange is nonsensical. My objection wasn’t about where we were eating, it was about whether I wanted to eat at all. Similarly, when you say “your depictions of Afghanistan are objectionable”, to describe your alternative as a sort of counterplan with an agent doesn’t make any sense. You aren’t “countering” the 1AC plan, so you don’t need a counterplan. You are indicting their way of describing or imagining the world, so your alternative should be a…. wait for it… different way of describing the world. Or if you are critiquing their impact framing, then you can offer an alternative way of impact framing. This also should pretty nicely deal with dumb questions like “can the plan be done in a world of your alternative” which are totally pointless and stupid because they miss the point. The alternative isn’t a different “world”, its a different way of describing the same world. Stop worrying about whether or not your plan “can be done” because the debate isn’t about your plan. Think of it this way

Bad K debate

Aff: Hegemony promotes peace cause rogue states are dangerous

neg: hegemony is violent and ethnocentric

aff: can you do our plan, which boosts hegemony, in a world where you think hegemony is bad?

neg: uhh, well, we don’t take a stance on that… we don’t fiat that the plan is done but, we don’t like, ban the plan either if you know what I mean

Mediocre K debate

Aff: heg!

neg: the affirmatives hegemony advantage is based on several flawed, ethnocentric assumptions about how the world works

aff: u do plan?

neg: our fw says the plan is totally irrelevant, so you are asking the wrong question

Good K debate

Aff: kagan!

neg: 1AC ir depictions are not natural but politically and historically contingent- their reps should be rejected because they are wrong and emp this kind of predicting has lead to conflict in Iraq

Aff: ……plan?

neg: we didn’t critique your plan, we critiqued the justifications you offered for the plan. If you would like to argue that a good plan makes up for dumb reasons for doing the plan have at it, but since we are critiquing your advantage reps our alternative is a different way of looking at the world/interpreting events

but then they could say…

Aff: but that was a nuanced argument, we wanted a simple yes/no here

neg: the alternative does not include the plan

and what about

aff: and who is the agent of this different way of looking at things

neg: well, again, your question presupposes a “plan of action” in the traditional debate sense which we are not arguing about, however in the sense that you (the aff) are the “agent” of the 1AC representations (you assembled them/read them), the negative would be the agent of the alternative way of viewing things

but then…

Aff: well then, permute- do the plan and the different way of viewing things

neg: this is silly, its like saying “perm do the plan and heg bad” after we impact turned your advantage, it doesn’t make any logical sense or rise to the level of a basic rational thought.

More questions the aff might pose? Post them in the comments.

15 thoughts on “Kritik Concept 2- We don’t need uniqueness

  1. zach

    another question i see a lot from the aff, not sure where it gets them…"does/how does the alt spillover?"

  2. Joey M

    I've regularly said that K uniqueness comes from some element of the other team's performance. I think this framing coheres with much of what you're saying (For instance, the problematic aff framing. I find that all three of your "better" responses come more naturally to mind when debaters conceptualize the K in this way.

  3. Ricardo Saenz

    What is the alt text?

    on a relevant side note, in general, whats the best way to word an alternative in a representations debate? it seems like teams always seem to say "vote neg" which seems somewhat oversimplified.

  4. John T.

    Aff: How does the judge evaluate and substantiate truth claims in your hypothetical differently framed world without ultimately resorting to traditional "policy" type statements. (Ie. if people framed the world in X way, then Y would or wouldn't happen.)

    The implication of this question being, why then isn't it fair to weigh impacts and solvency of plan versus the critique.

  5. pacedebate

    neg: this is silly, its like saying “perm do the plan and heg bad” after we impact turned your advantage, it doesn’t make any logical sense or rise to the level of a basic rational thought.

    aff: no, it's like we had a heg advantage which you impact turned but then made the mistake of reading a cp that solved all the impact turns and wasn't mutually exclusive with our plan.

  6. Michael Antonucci

    Great post. It does suggest the possibility that the "alternative" checkbox didn't really clarify anything?

    If I remember correctly, "alternative" was a pretty reactive move to "no alternative" claims which preceded it, not really a well-thought way of conceiving the K. It gained currency precisely because it let more policy-educated judges filter Ks as counterplans.

    If teams abandoned the language of 'alternative' altogether, would debate be conceptually poorer for it?

    1. Scott Phillips

      What is the status

      This is an instance where strategic concerns probably trump faithfulness to the evidence for most teams. Generally I think you are safe saying “dispo” because most teams will always make a perm.


      Spillover presupposes that we are evaluating what the effects would be if the plan were actually implemented vs in round action by the negative. This begs the question of framework/fiat etc. Reading a card about academic responsibility and framing the round /role of the judge as an educator is the best way to deal with this imo.

      The demand for a text is stuck in the model of competing with the plan. The reps k doesn’t need a text in the same way that aff advantages don’t have a text. While some arguments could be boiled down to a text, like say human security vs state security, that is relatively simple for the most part it will be tough to have a 1 sentence description of what the alternative way of describing things would be like. I do understand the aff desire to lock the neg down to something stable(esp given the demand for a text arose in a time where the neg was being egregious with the re-explain the alt in the 2NC as something ridiculous), but using a text to do that is probably not the best way since the text ends up being self serving and arbitrary like “reject the aff securitization”.

      “you read a CP that solves heg bad”
      Well no, the neg didn’t, that was the whole point. The alternative to the K of hegemony reps isn’t offshore balancing, so saying the perm does something that ends US hegemony isn’t really accurate. Also the “mutually exclusive with our plan” part still presupposes that the plan is the basis of comparison. I am fine with a theory argument that the plan is the focus of the debate, but when the neg clearly makes arguments about why it shouldn’t be then making all your 2AC arguments assume you have already won that is dangerous.

  7. pacedebate

    SP says:
    “you read a CP that solves heg bad”
    Well no, the neg didn’t, that was the whole point. The alternative to the K of hegemony reps isn’t offshore balancing, so saying the perm does something that ends US hegemony isn’t really accurate. Also the “mutually exclusive with our plan” part still presupposes that the plan is the basis of comparison. I am fine with a theory argument that the plan is the focus of the debate, but when the neg clearly makes arguments about why it shouldn’t be then making all your 2AC arguments assume you have already won that is dangerous.

    I say:
    I'm not sure how clearly the neg is making this argument but, if so, then I agree; this is just hyped up reps come first. If aff wins plan is the focus then they probably win, if neg wins reps come first then they win. However, I do think there is some element of shadiness hidden in all of this. Primarily, because the neg doesn't usually clearly state reps come first. Good teams have just been taught even if they don't clearly say this you better answer the argument because if you don't for sure the 2nr will talk about it. Second, the neg doesn't really propose/defend an alternative way for judges to evaluate debates when they are about "they way we view the world". The neg tries to create the most strategically viable world possible by keeping all the advantages of being neg in a world of plan focus (for example, topicality) but then isolate off the reasons why plan focus is fair for both sides by making the aff defend their entire 1ac. Of course, that's what negs do and so I guess my objection to this is the feeling that SP actually thinks this is a good method of debate. Good for the neg – definitely. Good for debate – no.

  8. Scott Phillips


    Here are the tags to cards I put in the 1NC for the security K this summer to attempt to explain why the plan is not the focus, in your opinion is this sufficiently clear (i will say they are not as clear as they could be because i left them short given how goo the cards themselves explicitly make the claim)? If not, what kind of things would you require the neg to say to eliminate the douchey ambiguity you describe (which i agree most teams try and take advantage of/is bad)

    "The concept of security is a social construct. Claims of war and conflict create a false dichotomy between the evil “them” and the good “us” ignoring our role in provoking the aggression. The social context of realist security discourse outweighs affirmative advantage claims. "
    (most relevant part of this card "'that to employ a textualizing approach to social policy involving conflict and war is not to attempt to reduce social phenomena to various concrete manifestations of language. Rather, it is an attempt to analyze the interpretations governing policy thinking. And it is important to recognize that policy thinking is not unsituated” (Shapiro, 1989a: 71). Policy thinking is practical thinking since it imposes an analytic order on the “real world”, a world that only exists in the analysts’ own narratives. ")

    Critical praxis outweighs policy making- voting affirmative guarantees error replication. Only a radical break from dominant paradigms can avoid becoming a self fulfilling prophecy
    (relevant part ". If the critic responds directly to the demand for policy alternatives, without addressing this image, he or she is tacitly endorsing it. Before engaging in the policy debate the critics need to reframe the basic terms of reference."

    "Representations must precede policy discussion"
    (relevant part- ", the way we know the world, how we decide between competing beliefs (ontology and epistemology); and the nature of the situation at hand( the proper frame or representation)- must occur before specific arguments that could lead to decision and action may take place. ")

  9. pacedebate

    I think that type of clarity would resolve most of my issues. The primary remaining issues are
    1) some description of how representations are/should be evaluated. If aff wins my poverty reps were good in the 1ac and the neg wins security reps in the 1ac were bad how does a judge evaluate that.
    2) What happens to the rest of plan focus type arguments?
    If the plan isn't the focus then why does the aff have to have a topical plan instead of "a bridge to the resolution"
    Does the neg get to defend any part of the 1ac reps?

    I'm not saying the neg has to say all of this in the 1NC but at some point in the block they ought to act like they have at least thought about these things.

  10. J.V. Reed

    While I'm sure Tim and I end up in disagreement on a lot issues concerning K debate, I can say that I feel his pain when it comes to the inadequacy of most negative explanations of why their argument matters. Framework debates have come to stand in for good old fashioned "impact framing" that tells a judge how to evaluate competing claims of importance. I have a post up on the UTNIF blog ( that uses a newly published Security K article as a jumping off point for considering some of these questions of impact framing, etc. It might be of interest to the folks following this discussion here. It should definitely be of interest to those debating Afghanistan counter-insurgency/counter-terror affs.

  11. Kaitlyn

    How do you frame the impact comparison in a debate where the aff includes both security constructed impacts (Kagan) as well as systemic impacts like warming or victmization?

    I guess does that tie back in with your argument that voting aff guarantees repetition of error/we need to evaluate discourse first/aff severance bad?

    1. Scott Phillips

      You can do one of a few things

      1. Say you o/w or turn that portion of the case with links you generate elsewhere
      2. Theory- make a FW style argument about why its legitimate for the negative to win by disproving part of the 1AC
      3. Aff inclusivity- say you can agree with parts of the 1AC like you would with a plan inclusive counterplan
      4. Apply your generic links to the concept of the advantage- a good example would be state centrism and warming. Many warming advantages make the argument that some kind of international agreement amongst states must be created in order to solve, there is security evidence that indicts the logic of such international agreements (in the context of arms control for example) that you could apply here
      5. Read specific links – securitizing warming bad
      6. read an independent K of the environment

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