Dec 24, 2010

LD theory for beginners

A reader, H Siddiqi, has answered the call and offered to guest-blog. The topic: using theory in LD.
So a lot of you have probably heard experienced debaters talking about theory. Perhaps some of you may have been unfortunate enough to have to go against it during a round. However, unless you debate in the national circuit you probably are not going to have to go against it. Nevertheless, it is always nice to know what theory is (I have hit theory in lay tournaments as well).

To begin, a quick definition of theory. Many of you may be wondering - what is theory? I cannot stress this enough; theory is nothing more than an argument with a different format (which we will go over later). A difference is that theory is not exactly resolutional. In other words, it is not an argument about the resolution, but about something that you have done. Also, the stakes in theory are often higher – when someone runs it, they usually run it with the argument that it is a reason to reject the opponent and vote for the theory-runner.

But, when does one run it? Theory is meant to be a check on abusive cases in debate. If someone is being ridiculously unfair, it is good to run theory. Unfortunately, however, several (annoying) debaters run theory whenever they get the chance.

So how does one run theory? What is it made of? Currently, theory has a complicated format; it is comprised of four parts (you need to remember these):

A – Interpretation – This is the rule that you think that there is in debate.
B – Violation – This basically says that your opponent violated this rule.
C – Standard – This answers the question: Why is that violation bad? What does it cause? Link your standard to the voter (see below) here.
D – Voter – This should be either fairness or education. You MUST explain why (1) it is important and (2) why this theory shell comes before the substantive (the resolutional arguments) debate (i.e. why to vote for you here).

An example of a case in which I ran theory is at a recent tournament. The affirmative was a novice debater who simply said mid-speech “The negative has the burden to argue that drugs are good.” You can probably see why that is abusive. So, below is the theory shell I ran.

a) Interpretation – The affirmative can not put any extra-topical burdens on me.
b) Violation – The negative has imposed the burden of arguing that drugs are good, which is not implied in the resolution.
c) Standard – Ground [my standard]. Under this burden, I have to defend this burden AND negate the resolution, while all he has to do is affirm. This is a clear argument disparity and thus unfair [link to voter].
d) Voter – Fairness is a voter because debate is a competitive activity. If debate ceases to be fair, then no one will debate. Vote him down because he is committing an act that will lead to the extinction of debate if left unchecked. This comes before substance because if the substance is unfair and skewed, you can not vote here.
My two cents: It's probably wise to ask your judge if they vote on theory before running it; lay / novice judges are extremely unlikely to follow your argument, and some will find it tiresome to "debate about debate." Regardless, it's essential to understand in contemporary LD, even if you never run it. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Siddiqi.

Added: For another perspective, go to this link, and scroll down to Chad Henson's post titled "SO WHAT IS THEORY, ANYWAY?"

If you're interested in having your work similarly featured, email me!


Timmy Boy said...

Thanks for the blog! It helped. One question, what is disclosure theory?

Jim Anderson said...

It has to do with whether an LDer has an obligation to make public all of his/her arguments/citations. See here.

G.O. said...

Is this disclosure shell the reason that some open LD'ers have picked up the annoying habit of handing their entire case to the opponent after reading it?

Jim Anderson said...

It's possible. I think it's more likely a matter of the extreme speed at which a lot of Open LDers operate--they've been asked so often to hand over their case that they get used to preemptively handing it over.

G.O. said...

Now that confuses me, too, because I've always understood that evidence (tagline, source citation, credentials, and context of the quoted material) is to be made available to the opponent but not the analysis delivered in the speech. For one, there's no obligation anywhere in the rules to have a written speech or to read exactly the speech in hand. In junior division an opponent once asked for my neg speech - which, oddly, I thought, the judge allowed - and then proceed to attack me based on a definition I had written on the page but had not read in the round, accepting the aff definition instead. I don't see how these evolving norms in LD can cope with that kind of misunderstanding or place fair burdens of preparedness on the competitors.

But on a more practical note, do you have any suggestions for dealing with such requests in-round? I, for one, would rather keep my case to myself but offer to hand over relevant cards from my evidence file if allowed time to pull them. But I'm not sure how judges or opponents would react to that increasingly dated convention.

Jim Anderson said...

You're right that there's no rule requiring you to share your case, and the judge who made you was acting outside his/her authority.

Here's what I would say in your situation: "I'll be happy to answer any clarifying questions in CX, and hand you a copy of any relevant card, and repeat or summarize any part of my case, but these papers include strategic notes that are for my eyes only."

Something like that, showing that you're polite and have good reasons for keeping your case to yourself. I would be very surprised if, at that point, an opponent insisted--and shocked if a judge attempted to force you to share.

Of course, I wouldn't fault someone else for asking to see your case; it's their right to ask, and your right to refuse.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this blog really helped. But how would you respond to theory ?

Jim Anderson said...

It's probably going to depend on the kind of theoretical argument offered, and whether you can address it on its own merits, or with countertheoretical arguments.

If you could provide an example, that'd probably be best; I'm not entirely sure what you're asking.

Anonymous said...

I meant if there is an certain procedure that has to be followed when responding to theory.

Jim Anderson said...

Ah, I see. Good question.

Since the theory argument is usually offered as a voter, I'd address it before any on-case arguments.

How you respond to it depends on what you think is its weak point. I think it makes sense to start with A (the interpretation) and work downwards in your thinking. For instance:

A - Interpretation. You can argue that the rule you opponent stated is not actually a rule (they've misunderstood, misinterpreted, made it up, etc.)

B - Violation. Even if the rule is valid, you haven't actually violated it, and here's why.

C - Standard. If you defeat A or B, you're probably not going to need to defeat C. If you can defeat C, you take out A and B. So focus your rejoinder accordingly.

D - Voter. Even if you lose A B and C, you could try a desperation move, which would be to minimize the impact of your violation. Throwing out one bad argument instead of your entire advocacy. Being docked speaker points instead of losing the round.

Don't try to attack all 4 at once; that takes too much time, and seems less confident than just taking out A or B (or, if necessary, C or D).

Anonymous said...

So, if I understand correctly, theory would be run as a neg case, correct? It would seem to me very difficult to destroy a negative case before it's even given, especially when the neg might go in a completely different direction.

Jim Anderson said...

Not exactly, Anonymous. This type of argument structure is a responsive theory argument.

A "resolutional analysis" or "observation" that tries to define the ground of the resolution, or a burden, or any similar argument that sets the parameters of the debate, without being about the resolution per se, is a preemptive theory argument.

In fact, you might already be using theory without realizing it.

Stinky said...

so how about a quick explanation about the use of fields in LD? I hit it a few times on the previous resolution and was very much confused.

Jim Anderson said...

That's new to me, too, Stinky. I'll ask / dig around. If there's a current practitioner out there, maybe they'll comment.

Anonymous said...

how can you run a necessary but insufficient burden theory shell?

Anonymous said...

also, when debating do you ever say A) interpretation.
B) violation

stuff like that before you actually make the interpretation and violation?

Karan said...

Question: If I have an abusive definition, but my opponent does not, then does the definition still stand?

Anonymous said...

yes, because your oppenent failed to use key terms in the resolution.So by default your definition must be used. Although, i suggest that you stay aaway from abusive definitions. In varsity debate, the judge might down you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this was helpful.

Anonymous said...

I'm writing a theory shell for why straight reffing is bad for debate, I have my voter as fairness, but what would be some good standards? I'm having trouble justifying them...