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Debating Kritiks

Introducing Kritiks

Writing a chapter on debating kritiks is a relatively difficult task because there are many different types of kritiks, the theory surrounding kritiks is far from settled, and there is a heated debate in the community as to the legitimacy of critiques in general, particularly of many of newest forms. Presenting a description introduction is therefore a difficult task.

Twenty or thirty years from now many of the issues related to kritiks may be settled – at least as much as the issues relating to counterplans are.   But, as of today, kritiks are less then twenty years old.

The first time a kritik was run was in college debate in September of 2001. It took a few more years for the kritik to start to gain traction in high school debate, making it only about 12 years old there. And, in many parts of the country in high school, critiques have just started to catch-on. At all levels, we are dealing with a relatively new argument type when dealing with kritiks.

Since the idea of a critique in debate is relatively new, many of the terminology and ideas related to disadvantages and counterplans have been used to make sense of critiques. It is absolutely essential that you have an understanding of that theory and terminology before you can understand the critique. If you have not read the introductory chapters on Disadvantages and Counterplans, you should do so before reading the rest of this chapter.

You will normally see “Critique” spelled with a “K.” You may think that is a misspelling, but supposedly (I’ve been told) that it is the German spelling of the word. Some of the original proponents of the critique were obsessed with German philosophers and philosophy so they have adopted this spelling, which has largely caught on. Second, much of the theory and terminology that is used when discussing and debating critiques stems from the theory and terminology of disadvantages and counterplans.

To gain an understanding of kritiks are all about, it is useful to look at the history of the argument and the different manifestations of it.

Assumptions & Disadvantage-style kritiks. The first critique that was run in debate was a Critical Legal Studies kritiks that has become very popular in debate. This critique essentially argues that the law is not this wonderful set of doctrines and institutions that we think it is and that it more often serves to hurt, rather than help, the interests of those that we believe it protects.

This critique essentially served to challenge the assumptions that many affirmative teams make that the law is effective, that the affirmative could solve by using the law, and, subsequently suggested that the law was bad – that the affirmative’s use of it was disadvantageous.

This style of critique was hardly revolutionary. It still fit within he framework for how debates are normally evaluated — negative’s challenge the affirmative’s ability to solve and point out that their may be disadvantages associated with the solvency.

While this application of the argument was not novel, two arguments were made by those advancing critiques that were novel  — that kritiks do not have to be unique, that affirmative “fiat” wasn’t real, and that kritiks can include alternatives..  These arguments made it on to the debate scene shortly after the first critique was run.

The Development of Different Types of Critiques

First, “the kritikers” argued that their critiques did not have to be “unique” in the way that disadvantages ought to be unique. People initially responded to the CLS critique by simply pointing out that the law is there now and that it will be there regardless as to whether or not the judge votes for the affirmative plan. But advocates of kritiks argued that uniqueness was not relevant when discussing more general theoretical and philosophical issues.

Second, they argue that the affirmative didn’t have fiat. They argue that it is simply not the case that the affirmative plan passes, so the affirmative cannot legitimately claim to solve for their affirmative case. All that they end up doing is endorsing a process – in this instance a legal process – that is very problematic.

Third, in response to repeated challenges to uniqueness, and affirmative claims that institutions like the law would exist with our without the affirmative plan, kritiks advocates started to develop alternatives. These alternatives focused on what individuals could do to produce change – such as resisting the terrible institution of the legal system or solving poverty in their communities. Debate spent a few years preoccupied with issues of activism and how debaters could be more effective social activists. These alternatives dovetailed well, of course, with the kritiker’s claim that the fiating of government action was not useful.

Criticisms of the value of fiating government action and the potential value of other “social change” alternatives lead to the development of a second generation of critiques that took the focus of the debate away from the affirmative plan.

Language & Questions. The second generation of critiques took the focus of the debate away from the desirability of the affirmative plan and towards other questions related to language use and other questions.

Initial criticisms of language use focused on language used by the debaters to advance relatively topic-specific arguments. One of the first language critiques, for example, attacked the idea that we should use the world “developing” to describe peoples living on other continents, such as Africa. Similar critiques of describing individuals as “terrorists” have also been advanced.

A second set of criticisms took a more personal turn and began to focus on language choices debaters themselves made. One of the most popular critiques of this nature is the “gendered” language critique, which argues that if you use the male pronoun to describe a woman, or refer to a female debater as a “he,” then your personal language should be critiqued. This led many debaters to look for gender-inappropriate evidence and tag lines.

These types of critiques pushed even farther away from debating the desirability of the affirmative plan and into questions relating to personal issues in the debate itself. This began to introduce larger questions about the debate and how it began to impact the debaters.

Questions relating to debate and how it impacted debaters led to the development of critiques about the process and format of debate itself. People critiqued the “fast-taking” part of debate, arguing that such fast-talking excluded less trained advocates and audiences. They critiqued the idea that a single speech should be given by a single person, arguing that dialogue should be a part of the debate. They argued that the affirmative should not have to be bound by the resolution because limiting the debate to the resolution excluded certain individuals who wished to express their voices on other matters. Others questioned the traditional presentation of evidence as a quote, arguing that other non-traditional forms such as poetry and music should be privileged. Debaters who advanced critiques argued that these issues where more important than the overall desirability of the plan (which wouldn’t pass anyhow since fiat is obviously not real).

Kritiks Today

The last section is met as more than a history lesson. The types of kritiksthat I have identified are all very popular today. Different kritikstake the form(s) of solvency arguments, disadvantages, language use tests, and attacks on the generally understood norms and processes of debate. It is very important that you understand the type of critique that is being advanced and are able to address it when you see it.


Structure of Kritiks

Kritiks generally have three parts. The first part of the critique is the link. The link establishes the relationship between what one team does and the other team’s critique. For example, the negative may say that your plan is an instance of capitalism and that capitalism is bad. Similarly, they may say that you used a male pronoun inappropriately and that is their “link” to their gendered language kritiks. They may say that you talked too fast and that is their link to their “speed bad” critique.

The second part of the kritik is the impact or implication. This argues that what the other team does is bad. The y can argue that it is bad to support capitalism because capitalism is bad or they can argue that it is bad to used gendered language because it offends people and discriminates against women

The third part of the critique is the alternative. Given that the problem that the critique identifies is usually a problem that also exists in the status quo, the negative will usually present an alternative to the affirmative’s plan that solves the status quo problem. For example, they may say simply say “reject capitalism.”  Sometimes negatives will claim that the alternative solves for the affirmative harms and sometimes they will not. Usually they will try

Critiques of the second and third generation have the most obvious alternatives. Debaters can argue simple things like, “Debate, but don’t talk fast,” “Debate, but don’t use gendered language.” Their alternative usually just to debate but not engage in the practice they are critiquing.

Answering Kritiks

Every debater wants to become better at answering critiques. Although there is no simple formula to complete this task, there are a number of basic things that you can do to improve the quality of your debating against critiques

Determine what type of critique you are debating. You cannot answer a language critique the same you answer a disadvantage-style critique. Uniqueness arguments, for example, are completely irrelevant against language critiques but arguably more relevant against disadvantage-style kritiks. You need to figure out what type of kritik you are confronted with and adjusted your answers as suggested below.

Win a framework debate. You can really answer all of the second and third generation kritiks, and make inroads into the first generation critiques, by winning that the framework that the judge should use when deciding the debate is determining whether or not the plan is net-beneficial. If you can win this general argument on the negative, you can win that the affirmative loses because they don’t have a plan (they may just be singing or rapping and arguing that their performance should be evaluated by the judge), they should lose. Or, more “limitedly,” but very importantly, you can argue that the judge should decide the debate only on whether or not the plan is net-beneficial and that is the debate that you are winning.

Winning the framework debate will not entirely defeat the first generation of critiques because those critiques have relevance in this traditional policy-making framework – they question the solvency and the desirability of the affirmative.

The framework arguments are still useful, however, because they include arguments that the judge should assess the desirability of the plan – challenging their “no fiat claim” and allowing the relevance of your disadvantages to come back into play. Second, these framework arguments contend that the affirmative should only be responsible for the increment of harm their plan causes (they make the bad law a little more legitimate) and not all of the consequences of the action. Although these framework arguments do not eliminate the relevance of the negative’s kritik, they do substantially undermine its relevance.

In the remainder of this chapter I am going to discuss how to make additional answers to kritiks that assume that you are able to push your opponent back into a framework that assesses the overall merits of the plan’s desirability. A subsequent chapter with more advanced suggestions for debating critiques will cover answering these other forms of critique outside the plan desirability framework.

Question the relationship between the link and the impact. Most disadvantage-style critiques only posses a very tangential relationship between the link and the impact. For example, a team may argue that the plan either promotes capitalism or is an example of capitalism in action. They could argue that improving education will enable industrial growth that will support the capitalist system, which through resource development, will destroy the earth and cause human extinction.

The problem with this relatively simple argument is that affirmative does not support all of the manifestations of capitalism. You could, for example, you support education and not ore mining in Africa that will trigger civil wars and environmental destruction. Since kritiks are really about what the affirmative supports, and the terminal impact to the critique usually comes from something the affirmative never said they support, you can argue that there is really no link between your plan and capitalism.

If the negative responds to this argument by suggestion that your plan will lead to the support of capitalism by training people to be service workers, you can argue that this is really just a disadvantage in disguise (it’s an A->B->C) argument. Standard disadvantage burdens should then apply and the disadvantage is incredibly non-unique (we live in a very capitalist world).

Make a non-uniqueness claim.There is really no reason that disadvantages have to be unique and that disadvantage-style kritiks do not have to be. You should argue that capitalism (or whatever) is entrenched now, that you only make it a little worse at best, and that your advantages outweigh the increment of the impact.

Make a logical permutation against the alternative. Teams that present kritiks of things like capitalism or the law will usually argue for alternatives that say things like “reject capitalism” or “reject the law.” Since they’ll argue that the affirmative is a manifestation of capitalism, any permutation must include severing out of this original support of capitalism. This makes the permutation an illegitimate severance permutation.

The affirmative team can avoid this standard retort to the permutation by making a logical permutation. A logical permutation breaks the alternative down to its various parts. For example, capitalism includes at least all of these parts: supporting development of the ocean, service industry jobs, big companies that produce nuclear weapons for profits, and other companies that extract resources from the earth for profit, potentially destroying the environment.

A logical permutation would advocate doing/support the plan (supporting ocean industry jobs) while rejecting service industry jobs, big companies that produce nuclear weapons for profit, other companies that extract resources from the earth for profit, and all other manifestations of capitalism. This permutation is deadly for a few reasons. First, it does not sever out of anything the affirmative originally advocated – education for employment. Second, it solves the entire impact to the critique because the critique’s impact stems from these other elements/manifestations of capitalism.

This permutation will defeat almost every critique that has a relatively utopian alternative because it enables the affirmative to solve the impact. It forces the debate back to whether or not the particular form of education that the affirmative advocates is undesirable, and, after all, if the negative can win that that specific form of education is undesirable, they should be able to win the debate. This is simply proving that the plan is disadvantageous.

Argue the alternative doesn’t solve and/or is bad. Just as you can attack the solvency of a counterplan, you can attack the solvency of the alternative and argue that simply rejecting capitalism will fail. You can also run disadvantages to the alternative, arguing that the alternative is bad.  If you conceded that the alternative solves the case harms, it will be very difficult for you to win the debate.

Read impact turns. If the negative says the state is bad, say it is good. If they say capitalism is bad, say it is good. Many negative teams are not well-prepared to debate basic impact turns to their kritiks.

Extending Critiques in the Negative Block

The first thing you should do when extending a critique in the 2NC or the 1NR is to give an overview. Your overview should include a basic explanation of the argument, an explanation as to why your alternative (if you have one) solves all or at least some of the case arguments, and a brief explanation as to why it is best to vote for the critique alone. This latter argument will help set-up your answers to the permutation.

For some reason, kritik debaters are very prone to giving very long overviews that force them to devoted less than necessary time to covering the 2AC line-by-line. It is ore important to cover the line-by-line than it is to give an extensive overview.

When extending a kritik in the negative block you should be sure to take advantage of one of the more recent developments in critique theory – “floating PICs.” Floating pics are essentially alternatives that the negative “floats out” when extending the critique that basically solve any harm the affirmative identifies without violating the critique. You could, for example, when running a capitalism critique of national service, simply say, “You could have people conduct the service but not provide any training that would enable them to work in the service sector.” This is a floating PIC – it suggests a vague outline of an alternative.

It is called a “floating PIC for two reasons. First, it is similar to a plan-inclusive-counterplan (PIC) in that it advocates doing part, but not all, of what the affirmative says. Second, it “floats” because it is never clearly identified as an alternative, though the negative will make it quite clear in the 2NR that it is an alternative that the judge can vote for.

The theoretical legitimacy of floating PIC is quite suspect. These arguments are kritik alternatives that are not advanced until the 2NC/1NR, are often inconsistent or in addition to alternatives that were presented earlier in the debate, and lack a text that the affirmative can focus their attention on. For these reasons, though, the are an highly useful strategic weapon for the negative.


Kritik arguments are often derived from relatively complicated theoretical and philosophical. This, combined with the fact that they are relatively new forms of argument in debate, and are constantly evolving, means that some people are intimidated by the thought of having to answer, let alone extend, a critique.

While learning how to run and answer kritiks does take a lot of work, you should not be intimidated. Many critiques end up being run and explained as very simple arguments that you can understand an answer. As long as you have some familiarity with the argument, and are able to gain some experience debating them, debating critiques should not be any more difficult for you than debating disadvantages or counterplans.