Jan 26, 2014

how to parametricize an LD resolution

One of the hot buzzwords cropping up in debates about the "environmental protection versus resource extraction" resolution is the matter of parametricization.

If your browser red-squiggly-underlines the word, like mine does, it's just as confused about parametricization as you are. And, even if you know what it means, you may not know the way to make parametricization fit within a traditional LD round.

Definition
Parametricization is fairly straightforward. A debater, usually the Aff, wants to limit the ground of the debate--how much she has to defend or advance--so she changes the parameters. For instance, rather than argue a general principle that the environment should be prioritized, the Aff specifies a particular country or issue--Niger's uranium extraction, for instance, or just uranium mining in general--and then talks about the benefits of affirming in that instance. This is often a straight-up plan; if not, it's a quasi-plan, discussed in terms of Util impacts and/or solvency.

The word comes out of Policy Debate theory, as LPNelson explains:
Parametric analysis when applied to debate makes the resolution a parameter for the debate and is what allows the affirmative team to choose one example of reform/change (thus creating the plan-focused debate we’re all familiar with) within the bounds of the resolution.
Contrast this with the traditional view of LD:
Resolution centered debate, however, is what you will see if you participate in things like Lincoln-Douglas or Public Forum debate. This is where instead of having plan-focused debate, ALL of the argumentation in the round is about whether or not the resolution as a whole should be affirmed or negated – meaning that all examples in the round need to be typical of the resolution in its entirety (which is why occasionally you’ll hear LDers accusing each other of “parametricizing” the resolution).
More on this problem later.

Justification
In progressive LD, many debaters will run parametricized cases without any additional warranting; however, in a traditional tournament, this is likely to meet with resistance. Some debaters use fairness as a warrant, claiming that the vastness of the topic literature makes it impossible to run a "general principle" case, while others claim that parametricizing is about the educational value of debating things as a policymaker, especially given the real-world context of the resolution. (This tactic seems less apt when the resolution is written more abstractly, such as, say, "Resolved: the spirit of the law ought to take precedence over the letter of the law," which isn't inherently specific to any nation, agent of action, or other context.)

Problems
This is where things get a little dicey for the parametricizer. Unless LD rids itself of the "general principle" language and the explicit prohibition of plans (the NSDA, formerly the NFL, says they're a no-no), then a parametricized case is dependent on judges who ignore or flout the rules.

Furthermore, a parametricized Aff won't clash with a general-principle Neg, a situation I saw develop several times in January. Beefing up mangroves for the potential solvency benefits offers little inherent defense against, say, a rights-based Neg talking about minerals, fish, and timber. This leads to three (or more)-pronged Neg attacks in the 1NR: a topicality theory shell, followed by a disad, followed by an alternate framework and case structure. Good luck defending all that in the 1AR.

A Proposed Solution
I think it's fair to parametricize within the traditional context of Lincoln-Douglas as long as the resolution can still be affirmed as a general principle, avoiding unnecessary topicality debates.

One is to consider the range, scope, and magnitude of impacts. For instance, in the environment vs. resource extraction resolution, it's empirically verified that among developing nations, China, India, Brazil, and Russia own a relatively large share of carbon emissions, due to their growing industrial output and larger populations. Secondly, the impact of carbon emissions is huge and potentially catastrophic. Thus, a Util-based argument focused largely on these four nations has enough of a potentially large impact to justify affirmation as a general principle, in a way that, in contrast, ending uranium mining in Niger can't--at least, not without tenuous link chains and the tactical disadvantages described above.

Another strategy is to include an argument for why a particular scenario is typical of a wider pattern, making the parametricization more of a "focal point." For instance, given the example of Niger above, it'd be easy for the Aff to spend a paragraph rhetorically linking the situation to a wider context, given that Niger isn't the only developing nation (or even the only African developing nation) to have problems with foreign corporations extracting critical resources. This strategy precludes Neg responses of "cherry-picking" or "hasty generalizations," as it functions more as a "case study." The weakness is, once again, the potential lack of clash against a more general Neg.

In sum, not all parameters are created equal, and there seems to be fair ways to carve up ground within the traditional rules, ethos, and style of Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Bonus Question
I recently heard a debater say, theoretically justifying her parametricization case, that 50% of the developing nations / environmental topic literature is about...
a. Brazil
b. China
c. Russia
d. India
Wrong. Uganda.

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