Category Archives: Affirmative Strategy

Analyzing The NATO Topic Using Justification Burdens: Strategic Considerations and An Affirmative Case Selection Checklist

In sharing David Cheshier’s 1981 article “Justification vs. The Counterplan,” I noted the continuing importance of the justification argument in contemporary debates about counterplan theory. If you haven’t yet read Cheshier’s article, I suggest doing so before continuing.

More broadly, I think the concept of the justification argument provides a valuable tool for analyzing a debate topic and generating research ideas for affirmative and negative arguments. In this post, I will use the concept of the justification argument to break down the 2022-2023 high school policy debate topic:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its security cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in one or more of the following areas: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cybersecurity.

When using this method to analyze a resolution, one starts by identifying each of the affirmative’s “justification burdens” as derived from the resolution’s wording. In other words, what does the affirmative need to “justify” in order to make their prima facie case for the resolution? When making this list, it is helpful to pose the burdens as questions: has the affirmative justified the need for XYZ?

For the NATO topic, there are five main justification burdens that the affirmative must arguably meet. For each burden, I will briefly explain the issues that it raises, the negative strategies it invites, and the strategic considerations the affirmative should therefore consider when selecting and designing their cases. For simplicity’s sake, these five burdens are presented in the order that they appear in the resolution.

After identifying and discussing these burdens, I have also provided a checklist that can be used to vet affirmative case ideas. I hope that students and coaches find this helpful as they begin their summer research.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Glass on Neg-Neg Theory

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

In February 2012, David Glass wrote an article in Rostrum proposing a new concept called “Neg-Neg Theory.” A play on the Plan-Plan Theory of the early 1990s, it challenged the assumption that the affirmative team must affirm the resolution: “rather than the affirmative being obligated to defend the resolution, the affirmative could take the initiative of proving the resolution to be incorrect or false.” Glass then attempted to lay out the corresponding affirmative and negative burdens that would be established if the affirmative opted to take a negative approach to the resolution.

I don’t recall much reaction to Glass’s article at the time. While an increasing number of affirmative teams kritiked or impact turned topicality during this era, I don’t remember any that cited Glass directly. Unavailable online, the article was then functionally memory-holed for the rest of the decade.

After a long hiatus, Glass’s article returned to The Discourse during the 2019-2020 season when a few affirmative teams began directly citing it to support a counter-interpretation against topicality and framework arguments. I believe but can’t confirm that Westwood was the first to do so.

In this post, I will explain and critique Glass’s Neg-Neg Theory. I will also share the full text of his article so that students can more easily read, study, and debate it.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Hynes on Counterplan Competition

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I recently revisited Debating Counterplans: Modern Theory and Practice. Written in 1987 by University of Louisville Director of Debate Tim Hynes, this short book offers a valuable intellectual history of the counterplan as it had developed from the early 1970s through the late 1980s. As far as I know, it is not currently available online; this post (and future posts in this series) will remedy that.

The first chapter that I will share is the fourth chapter of the book: “Counterplan Competition.” In it, Hynes explains the origins and “modern” (1980s) developments of counterplan competition including the six potential standards for determining competition: Mutual Exclusivity, Net Benefits, Redundancy, Philosophical Competitiveness, Resource Competitiveness, and Artificial Competitiveness. After describing each standard (including its strengths and weaknesses), Hynes concludes with a discussion of the two major affirmative strategies that had been developed to disprove counterplan competition: extra-competitiveness and permutations.

At the time, standards for competition had not yet been fully settled; Hynes was describing a set of theoretical concepts that were still in flux. In retrospect, his analysis was quite prescient: Hynes accurately identified the mutual exclusivity and net-benefits standards for determining competition as the strongest, and he correctly predicted (citing Solt) that other standards would eventually be subsumed by the net-benefits standard.

In my view, contemporary students would benefit greatly from reading this history of counterplan competition — especially given how many debates in 2021 are decided by counterplan competition arguments. It is one thing to understand that counterplans compete based on mutual exclusivity or net-benefits because your debate coach or summer institute instructor told you so. It is quite another to understand why these standards were established and how and why affirmative teams developed responses like extra-competitiveness and (proto-) permutations. Students that understand the intellectual origins of these arguments from decades ago will be much better prepared to intelligently debate the extremely complicated counterplan competition issues that dominate today’s tournaments.

The full text of “Counterplan Competition” is below.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Unger on Topicality, Reasonability, and the Best Definition Standard (a.k.a. Competing Interpretations)

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

One main purpose of this series is to share important debate theory scholarship that is currently unavailable online. This installment is a good example: it features James J. Unger‘s seminal article introducing the “best definition” standard for topicality. Originally published in the October 1981 issue of Rostrum, it was later included in the Advanced Debate textbook. Oft-cited but unavailable (until now) online, Unger’s article developed the theoretical basis for what is now known as the “competing interpretations” model of debating and judging topicality.

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Positionless Debate: A New Philosophy For Determining Speaker Positions

The day before this year’s Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Eduardo Escobar from the Arizona Diamondbacks. An All-Star for the first time in 2021, the 32-year old Escobar had appeared in 1,080 games in eleven seasons for the White Sox, Twins, and Diamondbacks. A versatile player, Escobar had played in 567 games at third base, 329 games at shortstop, 137 games at second base, and 45 games as an outfielder. He had even appeared in one game as a pitcher and another as a catcher.

The one defensive position Escobar had not yet played? First base. He hadn’t even played there in the minor leagues. But in just his second game for the Brewers — and with only a short pre-game practice session to help him prepare — that’s where manager Craig Counsell penciled Escobar into the lineup.

This was an admittedly unorthodox move for a first-place team, but Escobar seemed unfazed. “The most important thing for me is to help the team win,” he said. “I’ve never played first base but for this team to compete for the playoffs or make the World Series, you want to be out there all the time. I will come early and work at first base. I’ll be ready when they need me. I’ll try to make the manager’s job easier.”

Counsell downplayed concerns about Escobar’s ability to handle the transition to a new position: “He’s a baseball player. We’re not sending a baseball player into a basketball game here.”

The Brewers’ decision to acquire Escobar and play him “out of position” was a good example of a significant, recent trend across many professional team sports: positionlessness. Whether positionless baseball, positionless basketball, positionless football, positionless soccer, positionless hockey, or positionless lacrosse, the concept is similar. Instead of accepting pre-defined positions and assigning players to play them, coaches in positionless systems assess their players’ individual skills and design strategies to maximize their chances of success.

This philosophy focuses on what players can do well rather than what they can’t do well. Each player still has a role based on their particular skillset, but those roles don’t correspond to pre-defined positions. In basketball, for example, this approach has allowed atypically skilled and sized players like Draymond Green, Zion Williamson, and Ben Simmons to thrive even though they don’t fit the traditional standards used to distinguish between guards, forwards, and centers. Across all sports, this makes teams more versatile because it allows coaches to define roles based on each player’s skills rather than to define the skills that each player needs based on their assigned role.

It is my contention that the philosophy of positionless sports can and should be applied to debate. The rest of this article will make the case for that conclusion.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Papka on (Excessive) Conditionality and the “Middle Ground” of Dispositionality

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

In this installment of the series, I am highlighting Ouita Papka‘s article about conditionality from the 1986 Debater’s Research Guide. At the time the article was written, Papka (now a successful chef and restaurateur) had just won the National Debate Tournament for the University of Kentucky. Her article’s main goal was to help students better answer negative strategies that include multiple conditional counterplans. Papka also proposed an alternative, “middle ground” status for negatives to consider when introducing counterplans (soon to be called “dispositionality”) that was pioneered by Kentucky during her senior season.

It is interesting to trace the historical norms about conditionality and off-case positions since the time Papka’s article was written. For most of the 1990s and into the early-2000s, it was uncommon for negatives to introduce multiple conditional counterplans. During that era, dispositionality became a more common alternative disposition, and one conditional counterplan was typically considered the maximum acceptable degree or “amount” of conditionality.

This began to change in the second half of the 2000s. Notably, the 2006 NDT Final Round included two conditional counterplans and the 2009 NDT Final Round included four conditional counterplans and one conditional kritik; at the time, both were shocking deviations from expected conditionality norms.

In the 2010s, negative teams increasingly introduced multiple conditional counterplans and kritiks, and successful theoretical objections to conditionality became relatively rare. As a result, debaters in 2021 are facing the same challenge that Papka identified in 1986: “being affirmative in a debate round where the first negative presents four conditional counterplans.”

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Practicality, Feasibility, and Plan Writing: Morello’s Critique of “The Retreat From Policy Advocacy” (From 1991)

I noted a few weeks ago that I had some “remainders” left to share from my research about plans in policy debate. One was the 1999 Rostrum article by Kenneth Grodd that bemoaned the decline of plan writing. Another is a 1991 conference paper by John Morello that made many of the same arguments; it is the subject of this post.

Morello’s paper is a contemporaneous reaction to the changes in plan writing that I documented in my series (especially part four, about the rise of topical and plan-inclusive counterplans). Seeing the dramatic reduction in plan size and specificity that took place in the 1980s, Morello argued that this was important proof that NDT-style policy debate had abandoned its vital function as a training ground for civic argumentation. “When advocates are excused from the duty to defend the practicality of the proposals they advance,” he argued, “they are learning an argumentative lesson which has little applicability beyond the competitive world.”

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Ulrich on Counter-Procedure Counterplans

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

In part five of the recent series on the history of plans in policy debate, I quoted Walter Ulrich’s 1987 attempt to categorize the different types of counterplans. He distinguished between three major types: counter agent counterplans, counter policy counterplans, and counter procedure counterplans. While further sub-categorizations (like Solt’s twelve categories) may be helpful to distinguish between particular counterplans, the simplicity of Ulrich’s taxonomy can help students recognize their shared foundational assumptions.

Ulrich outlined his categorization scheme in a short article about one of the three counterplan types he identified: counter procedure counterplans. He defined them as counterplans that “develop alternative methods of evaluating and/or adopting the policy defended by the affirmative.” Popular examples included “the referendum counterplan, the study counterplan, planning counterplans, and other counterplans that advocate alternative processes for evaluating the affirmative policy.”

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A Guide To Affirmative Strategy vs. Advantage Counterplans

In early 2010, I offered suggestions for how affirmatives can answer multi-plank advantage counterplans. Massive multi-plank counterplans were first popularized during that era; they were typically paired with a politics DA net-benefit. At the time, the disposition of planks was a relatively new controversy: negatives would sometimes propose a counterplan with ten or twelve (or more) planks, each independently conditional. This predictably led to many theory gripes.

In retrospect, my advice did not age particularly well. I omitted important aspects of affirmative strategy versus advantage counterplans; my focus was too much on the “multi-plank” part and not enough on the “advantage counterplan” part. This is understandable: while advantage counterplans were “old hat” and already well-understood by that time, the multi-plank part was novel and strategically provocative. While there is still some useful advice in that post, it might lead contemporary students astray.

As a corrective, this post will outline the basics of affirmative strategy against advantage counterplans — whether single-plank or massive multi-plank. My goal is to provide a comprehensive guide that students can use as a resource when formulating their responses to advantage counterplan-based strategies.

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The Decline of Affirmative Plan Construction: Revisiting Complaints from 1999

Most of the research I completed about plan writing made its way into the recent six part series, but there are still a few “remainders” that I wanted to share on the blog. This is the first one.

In the same 1999 issue of Rostrum that published David Cheshier’s article about effects topicality, another article article was published that criticized the state of plan writing in policy debate. It was written by Kenneth Grodd, the Director of Debate at St. Pius X in Atlanta.

Articles critical of “modern,” national circuit-style policy debate were common in Rostrum during the 1990s. When contemplating whether and how to criticize current debate practices, I find it helpful to revisit these earlier complaints. Sometimes, they identified emerging trends that were indeed troublesome. But with the benefit of hindsight, they can also often seem to have significantly missed the mark. Either way, I think it is valuable to understand how critics of particular debate practices explained their gripes.

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