Category Archives: Theory

UTNIF Blog: Revisiting the Rowland-Ulrich Debate

Sean Tiffee—a Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric and Language Studies and an Assistant Debate Coach at the University of Texas—has written an interesting post on the UTNIF blog about the role of argumentation in debate.

I made the decision to make my blog post about argumentation for two seemingly contradictory reasons. First, debate evolves at a pace that is simply staggering. The ninth grade debaters of today will be the ones shaping our activity in under a decade. As we all know, debate is a time intensive and life encompassing activity. While there are certainly coaches who have committed their lives to the activity, more and more seem to hit their early to mid 30s and decide they don’t want to lose every weekend for a minimal stipend, which leaves the activity in the hands of 20-somethings. A large-scale commitment of high school debaters to focus on argumentation today means that high school and college debate looks a whole lot different in less than 10 years. Second, as fast as our activity can change, we attempt to innovate among calcified thought. Some of these debates have already been had, they say, and there’s no point in going over them again. I disagree. While some of these debates have been had, it can be a good idea to revisit them with fresh eyes and the benefit of hindsight. In particular, I’d like to revisit a portion of a debate that took place in the Fall 1984 edition of The Journal of the American Forensic Association between Robert Rowland and Walter Ulrich. I know this is old school, but hear me out. Further, in the interest of full disclosure, I intend to cherry pick from these articles in an effort to initiate discussion and encourage you to seek out and read these relatively short articles yourself.

While I do not have the JAFA Rowland and Ulrich articles in my collection, I can share a few related articles that might be of interest to readers:

If anyone has access to the fall 1984 issue of JAFA, please let me know.

Using Guided Questions With Theory Articles: "Getting out of the Cards and into the Arguments" As An Example

The value of incorporating theory article reading and review into a student’s debate curriculum has been discussed at length in previous articles. One method that coaches can use to encourage students to delve into this literature is to provide a set of guided questions to accompany selected theory articles. In schools with formal debate classes, these short answer questions can be assigned as homework or used as quizzes to confirm that students are keeping up with their assigned reading.

To demonstrate this approach, a set of guided questions for Jim Lyle’s “Getting out of the Cards and into the Arguments: Strategies for Refutation (pdf)” is available below the fold. This article provides a wealth of actionable instruction about refutation techniques and is suggested for debaters of all levels. Coaches, feel free to reuse these questions however you would like.

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Conditionality Bad Card

Tim Alderete from The Meadows emailed me a card one of his ex debaters cut about education and conditionality (below the fold). I saw this article linked on the dish a few days ago and it seemed to be very debate useful but I didn’t put this particular spin on it. I don’t see a lot of teams read cards on theory arguments, and many judges think it is foolish. Personally I think it is a pretty good strategy, particularly if you are making a big shift in the 1AR to dedicate a lot of time to theory. Judges can call for cards, most won’t call for theory blocks. So in addition to getting some expert opinion into the debate, you give the judge something they can call for and look at after the round. People often don’t realize how important something like that can be to help clarify a rapid fire theory debate.

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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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The Use of a 2NC CP to Respond to a Straight Turned DA: A Hypothetical

Consider the following hypothetical:

1AC: Increase food stamps, solves hunger.

1NC: Politics (plan is unpopular and prevents a climate bill from passing—that causes runaway warming), Military Recruitment DA (reducing poverty weakens the recruiting base, tanking hegemony), Case Defense.

2AC: Straight Turns Politics (climate bill will not pass in the status quo, plan is crucial to passage), Answers Military Recruitment DA, Answers Case Defense.

2NC: New Counterplan: Pass Climate Bill. Extends Military Recruitment DA.

1NR: Extends Case Defense / Military Recruitment DA Outweighs The Case.

Three questions:

  1. Is the 2NC counterplan—to pass the Climate Bill—legitimate? If yes, why? If not, why not?

  2. Is it legitimate for the 1AR to impact turn the Climate Bill (by arguing that the Climate Bill is bad)? If yes, why? If not, why not?

  3. If the 1AR impact turns the Climate Bill, is it legitimate for the 2NR to:

    • extend the 2AC’s “non-unique” and “link turn” arguments (proving that the plan would uniquely cause the Climate Bill to pass)? If yes, why? If not, why not?

    • extend the 1NC impact (Climate Bill solves warming) and weigh it against the 1AR’s impact turn? If yes, why? If not, why not? And is it legitimate for the 2NR to read more evidence to support this argument?

Debate Videos

This recently got posted to e-debate, seems pretty decent.


This is a discussion program that was made in 1992 featuring some of the
most successful coaches of American policy debate.

I have processed three programs from the third series.

The panelists are:
James J. Unger, American University (chair)
William Southworth, University of Redlands
Joel Rollins, University of Texas
Dallas Perkins, Harvard University
Jeff Parcher, Georgetown University

Part One – Evidence, Topicality, Judging, Impact analysis.
http://debatevideoblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/discussion-policy-debate-unger-and.html

Part Two – inherency, structure, generics, counterplans and real world
issues.
http://debatevideoblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/discussion-policy-debate-unger-company.html

Part Three – Presentation, Intrinsicness, Institutes and Direction
http://debatevideoblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/discussion-policy-debate-unger-and_08.html

Logical Decision-Making: In Defense of Harrigan's "Judge Choice" Theory

[T]o say that representations matter—insofar as [they] determine/influence policy outcomes—says little or nothing about which justifications should be used for policymaking. The representations presented by the 1AC that are justifications for action, instead of outcomes of the plan are neither mandatory nor inevitable outcomes of voting Aff.

Thus, the judge, at the end of the debate, should be able to choose (for themselves) why to vote Aff or Neg. Logically, one can choose the best arguments from the set of available reasons presented in the debate. Not every 1AC justification needs to be part of the final “package” of voting Aff. If one or more representations for voting for the plan is undesirable, they should not be used. If, at the end of the debate, positive/beneficial justifications for acting remain, the plan is desirable and the Aff should win.

With that, University of Georgia Debate Coach Casey Harrigan has levied a fundamental challenge to the theoretical viability of representational critique as currently conceptualized in academic policy debate. This article will defend Harrigan’s “judge choice” theory against the attacks of its critics and thereby contribute to the developing theoretical literature about representational critique.

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AT: Conditionality makes your CP unethical

I mentioned this to a few people at st marks and was asked to post the card in question (more solt gold in the article)

Roger Solt, Debate Coach, University of Kentucky, 2003 (“The Disposition of Counterplans and Permutations: The Case for Logical, Limited Conditionality” – DRG) http://www.wfu.edu/Student-organizations/debate/MiscSites/DRGArticles/Solt2003.htm

The notion that conditional argument is somehow unethical strikes me as even less compelling. Considering several different alternatives does not, on its face, seem morally problematic. Nor does it seem immoral, generally speaking, to modify one’s position to some extent over the course of a discussion or a debate. One might even defend such a course as ethically superior to the approach of adopting a dogmatic stance permitting neither compromise nor modification based on new insights.

Conditionality Gone Wild: A Judging Hypothetical

In the quarterfinals of this past weekend’s New Trier Season Opener, a negative team extended two counterplans with contradictory net-benefits in the 2NR and justified doing so because the affirmative “conceded the thesis of conditionality.” Having already discussed this hypothetical with several debaters and judges, it is clear that it is both interesting and confounding. Read the blow-by-blow below the fold and chime in with your thoughts.

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Fairness Impact

I found this going through a bunch of old files of “misc” stuff that I never organized into an actual file.

Larry Cata Backer* Executive Director, Tulsa Comparative & International Law Center, Professor of Law, University of Tulsa College of Law; B.A. 1977 Brandeis University; M.P.P. 1979 Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; J.D. 1982 Columbia University University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review Summer, 1999

Our goal must be fairness. Fairness is a condition with perhaps an immutable definition but with a complex and transitory application. Fairness tolerates difference, but fairness ought not to tolerate disadvantage, either within a group or between groups. Fairness can be a trap and a cover for promoting separation. I mention only one problem here, that of the measure of fairness. Much has been made of the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of result. n105 Both contain within them culturally significant risk. Equality of opportunity as a measure of fairness contains strong leanings toward sameness. It suggests unity and minimizes difference yet provides little in the way of mechanisms for mediating situations where difference has an effect on the quality of opportunity. It can provide less protection against abuse by the dominant in a society of difference. At its limit it can suggest implosion of difference and provide a potent cultural weapon for involuntary assimilation n106 and disappearance.  n107 On the [*875] other hand, equality of result as a measure of fairness contains strong leanings toward difference. It suggests separation and minimizes sameness yet provides little in the way of mechanisms for mediating situations where difference would overcome any sense of meta-group cohesion. It can provide less protection against abuse by non- dominant groups and can result in reverse hegemony. It suggests the power of cultural veto by the smallest minority. It thus contains the danger of providing little protection against the unfairness of the smaller (instead of the larger) groups. At its limit it can suggest explosion of difference and provide a potent cultural weapon for separation.  n108

Fairness requires that we be willing to acknowledge as part of our cultural common sense that we all are part of the same group. Without a master unity, our differences can overcome us. Concentrating on what pulls us together as a group vitiates the strength of what distinguishes us as people. This is no task reserved solely for the group suffering disadvantage, but is the greatest challenge to the group imposing disadvantage on others. To suggest that no such meta-commonality exists is to suggest separation and disunity. Without a commitment to cultural unity, there is no point in engaging in dialog.

The penalty for rejecting an affirmation of sameness is the loss of the means of speaking in culturally significant ways; the ultimate penalty for rejection of sameness at some level is separation. Unless we acknowledge our differences within a context of shared culture at some meaningful level (and not at some abstract level of meaninglessness) we increase rather than decrease the separation effects of difference. Groups listen in culturally significant ways only to “family.” If your are not family, then you have nothing culturally significant to say. At its limit, rejection of sameness at a meaningful level suggests that as a result of difference we cannot [*876] speak the same cultural language. Babel and recent world history instruct us that the consequence is a scattering.