Category Archives: Counterplans

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: Cheshier on Justification Arguments

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 tracking the transition from what I called the “policy testing” paradigm of the late 1990s and 2000s to the currently predominant “hypothesis planning” paradigm that first emerged in the 2010s, I noted the importance of the view — derived originally from the hypothesis testing paradigm of the 1970s — that counterplans are merely “justification arguments,” not counter-advocacies. As described by David Zarefsky, the leading theorist of the hypothesis testing paradigm, the counterplan “is merely the justification argument in a different form.”

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Conliff on Counter-Advantages

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.

When digging through old debate theory scholarship, I often find remarkable consistency across eras. While theories evolve, many foundational issues have remained perennial controversies for several decades (or longer). I have already shared many articles in this series that demonstrate this surprising consistency.

While these are enlightening articles to revisit and study, I also enjoy uncovering articles that propose novel theories that never caught on and that have been lost to history. Here, I will share one example: an article proposing a position called the “counter-advantage.”

Published in 1993 in Debate Issues, the article was written by Charles Conliff, a Miami University of Ohio college debater. As far as I can tell, it has never been made available online; there is no reference to it on Google.

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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: 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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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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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Lambertson on Plans and Counterplans (from 1943)

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.

To this point, the articles in this series have been from the most prolific period of published debate scholarship: the 1970s and 1980s. But earlier eras also offer insightful articles that still hold resonance today. In this installment of the series, I will highlight a 1943 article about plans and counterplans. It is one of many interesting findings from my recent deep dive into the history of plans.

Written by Floyd W. Lambertson, a Professor of Speech at the Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), it includes an early theorization of standards for evaluating plans and counterplans. The most interesting part is that Lambertson surveyed several other debate coaches (including A. Craig Baird and Alan Nichols) and documented their perspectives on plan writing, the role of plans in debate, and the affirmative and negative burdens associated with them. This gives contemporary readers insight into the era’s “community consensus” about plans and counterplans.

Current students will recognize many similarities with the controversies that still exist today about plan specification, solvency burdens, and counterplan competition. More than two decades before the formal development of the policymaking paradigm, the basic foundation for counterplan theory as it has been understood for the last fifty years was already being developed. Most histories of the counterplan don’t start until the paradigm wars of the 1970s — until a few years ago, that’s when I thought they were first introduced — but understanding these earlier origins can provide important historical context for the counterplan theory battles of later eras.

The full text of Lambertson’s article is below.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Solt on Types of Counterplans and Constraints on Negative Fiat

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 1989, Roger Solt identified twelve types of counterplans that were relatively popular during that era of policy debate. Solt’s categories are:

  1. Foreign/international counterplans
  2. International organization (of which the U.S. is a member) counterplans
  3. Private (self-interested) institution counterplans
  4. Private (public-interested) institution counterplans
  5. Fundamental change to basic form of government counterplans
  6. Radical topic-related reforms counterplans
  7. Sub-federal level of U.S. government counterplans
  8. Process counterplans
  9. Exceptions counterplans
  10. Offset counterplans
  11. Advantage counterplans
  12. Uniqueness counterplans
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Some thoughts on permutations

One thing that has annoyed me a lot recently is the proliferation of a million rapid fire permutations in the 2AC. These things work because oftentimes the other team won’t here them all, or the judge will allow the affirmative to clarify later in the 1AR/2AR what the 3 words said in the 2AC meant and how that avoids the net benefit. So I’ve put together some thoughts on how judges should evaluate permutations and how debaters should respond to them.

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